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With Barr's encouragement, Skillicorn pestered fellow inmates to write down what they would say to troubled youth to keep them from going down a criminal road, then compiled the resulting poems, stories and artwork in a book. The publishers of Compassion magazine printed Yesterday's Choices, Tomorrow's Dreams. Fred Moor, the Perrysburg, Ohio, man who coordinates the distribution of Compassion and manages its subscription money, says more than 50 juvenile-detention centers across the country use Skillicorn's book.
Skillicorn has worked for Set Free Ministries since his arrival at Potosi, save for one break — when he was sent to Arizona to answer for the murders of Joseph and Charlene Babcock. Even though he wasn't the one who pulled the trigger, Skillicorn pleaded guilty and waived his right to a trial. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Skillicorn takes responsibility for his role in the deaths of Drummond and the couple in Arizona because he knows he played a part in a violent series of events. But he also pleaded guilty to speed his return to Potosi, where he could continue his work.
Now, he says, "It's about effecting change in a positive way, which is very fulfilling. It really is. You get that sense of purpose."
With all that Skillicorn does to fulfill that sense of purpose, he doesn't worry about his fate. He leaves that to his lawyers at the Public Interest Litigation Clinic. PILC is a nonprofit law firm that specializes in capital cases and is funded by grants, donations, the law school at University of Missouri-Kansas City and court-appointed counsel fees. Its lawyers work out of a tiny, low-profile office in Brookside.
The Missouri Supreme Court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied all of the appeals filed by Skillicorn's first PILC lawyer, Kent Gipson, so Gipson turned to the U.S. Supreme Court. His petition argued that the prosecutor in Skillicorn's trial secured death sentences by twisting the same story two different ways: Bellamy had painted Skillicorn, the older of the defendants, as the leader of the crime spree, then convinced the jury in Nicklasson's trial that Nicklasson had been the one in charge. The Supreme Court rejected Gipson's petition in 2007.
Skillicorn's last chance is clemency.
PILC's Jennifer Merrigan prepared Skillicorn's lengthy clemency petition. She's the youngest lawyer on staff — a 2004 graduate of UMKC's law school who interned with PILC as a student before accepting a permanent position.
The clemency petition includes a 2008 statement from a PILC intern who interviewed a juror from Skillicorn's trial. The juror was given a copy of a statement that Nicklasson made in 2008, in which he admits to being the "ringleader" and says Skillicorn had no idea that he was going to kill Drummond. The intern writes, "Juror #1 stated that had he known this information at the time of the trial, it would have made a difference to him in sentencing Mr. Skillicorn ... with this information, the sentence would have been different."
Also in the petition is a letter from James Betts, the man who shot farmer Wendell Howell during the 1979 robbery with Skillicorn. Betts is serving a life sentence in Jefferson City. In the statement, dated September 2008, Betts takes responsibility for the murder, stressing that Skillicorn was outside the house when Betts killed Howell.
Skillicorn says, "Even though I've been incarcerated for nearly 30 years for different things, I just don't have a violent history. I do have a tendency to be around people who have a tendency to do violent things."