Family of convicted murderer asking for clemency

By Benjamin Cox on October 17, 2013 at 7:19am

The family of an Ashland woman serving a 55 year prison sentence for first degree murder is seeking support for her release.

Shirley Skinner was convicted of first-degree murder in May 2010 for shooting her granddaughter’s estranged husband, Steven Watkins, in the back of the head at Skinner’s residence during what was supposed to be a child custody exchange between Steven Watkins and Jennifer Watkins.

Ashland Police Chief Jim Birdsell says Shirley Skinner’s husband, Kenneth, is trying to gain signatures on a petition for Governor Pat Quinn to grant clemency for the 78-year-old woman.

“Mr. Skinner came into my office and said that Shirley was in pretty poor health and he didn’t feel the prison was taking care of her, so the family decided to go to the governor and ask for clemency,” says Birdsell.

Birdsell says he refused to sign the petition. He was the first officer to respond to the murder in 2008, and assisted state police in the investigation of the murder.

There’s also an online petition on Facebook asking for support for Shirley Skinner’s release. In response, a counter-petition has also been created.

Since Shirley Skinner’s murder conviction, Jennifer Watkins fled to Florida with her daughter, Sidney, who was at the center of the custody dispute. The girl’s paternal grandparents, Dale and Penny Watkins, continue to fight a custody battle to enforce visitation rights. They haven’t seen their granddaughter in nearly three years.

Jennifer Watkins spent time in a Florida jail facing civil contempt of court charges in Illinois for violating visitation orders, but was not extradited and eventually released.

Criminal contempt of court warrants for Jennifer Watkins’ arrest were issued earlier this year, but no arrests have been made.