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Nixon turns down clemency petition sought by convicted killer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 19, 2009 - In his first such act since taking office, Gov. Jay Nixon late Tuesday denied the clemency petition sought by Dennis Skillicorn, who was slated for execution early Wednesday.

Skillicorn would be the first Missouri inmate executed since 2005. On Tuesday, for the second day in a row, the Missouri Supreme Court denied his petition for a stay of execution.

Skillicorn was convicted in the 1996 murder of Richard Drummond, an AT&T supervisor who had stopped to help Skillicorn and two other men after their car had broken down near Kingdom City. Another man convicted in the crime, Allen Nicklasson, also is awaiting execution.

Skillicorn's supporters, including some opponents of the death penalty, have been using their website to galvanize support on his behalf.

Nixon issued the following statement after rejecting Skillicorn's appeal:

"Early this morning, I received from my counsel a final briefing on the petition for clemency from Dennis Skillicorn, which has been reviewed in detail. After careful deliberation, I have denied this petition.

"As governor, this is a power and a process I do not take lightly, particularly in capital punishment cases. Each instance involves a very specific set of facts, which must be considered on its own.

"At the time he murdered Richard Drummond, Dennis Skillicorn was out on parole for another murder in Missouri. The jury that recommended the death sentence for Dennis Skillicorn took that previous murder conviction into consideration as an aggravating circumstance. The jury also took into account during the sentencing phase the fact that Richard Drummond was kidnapped and robbed before he was murdered.

"After more than a decade of legal challenges, both the conviction and the death sentence of Dennis Skillicorn have held up under extensive judicial review by the state and federal courts.

"The two murders for which Dennis Skillicorn was convicted in Missouri are not his only murder convictions. He also received life sentences after pleading guilty to murdering an Arizona couple in 1994, a few days after the Drummond murder.

"These factors were taken into consideration in the clemency process and played a significant role in my decision. The jury that convicted Dennis Skillicorn determined that he deserved the most severe punishment under Missouri law, and my decision on clemency upholds the jury’s action.

"Finally, I ask that Missourians remember Dennis Skillicorn’s victims at this time – Richard Drummond, Joseph and Charlene Babcock and Wendell Howell – and keep their families and friends in their thoughts and prayers."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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