Missouri is about to execute Dennis Skillicorn. The state’s death penalty may not outlive him very long. 

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Skillicorn could be the last criminal put to death in Missouri, which is ranked fifth in the country for most executions per capita. His execution could also be the state's most regrettable.


Past Potosi's thick, mechanized metal doors, an interview with Skillicorn takes place without barriers — no glass wall, just two plastic chairs and a table in a small white room. The guard admitting a reporter says, "He's not anyone you need to worry about."

Potosi's death-row inmates aren't separated from the general prison population. Skillicorn lives in the honor wing, where monastic adherence to the rules earns an inmate certain freedoms.

"If a guy wants to come in here and be a hardhead, if he wants to have bad behavior, they got a place for him," Skillicorn explains. "It's not a pleasant place. They got a place that's literally spending your days in a cage, no comforts whatsoever. It might be a consolation to some people on the street to picture that. But people who do want to be well-behaved, there are things available to them, too."

Skillicorn's certainty in his heavenly reward is based on his good works at Potosi. In order to sit in this open area, Skillicorn had to take a break from his job with Set Free Ministries, a Christian ministry outreach program with an office at Potosi. He's on-call for the prison's hospice, where inmates comfort and care for terminally ill inmates. Hospice at Potosi was in its infancy when Skillicorn arrived in 1996; under his watch, it has blossomed into a nationally recognized program. He is the editor of Compassion, a bimonthly magazine sent to death-row inmates and 4,500 readers around the country. The money collected from subscriptions funds scholarships for college-bound kids who have lost family members to violent crime. The magazine has awarded $36,000 in scholarships since 2001.

The transition from criminal to Christian happened during a roadside revelation, Skillicorn says. People had tried to sway him toward "this God stuff" before, he says, but he didn't know what it meant until a moment when he found himself standing on the side of a Southern California highway, his brain crunchy from meth.

Prison transformations are cliché, he knows, but Skillicorn says his salvation is genuine. "It's not about me changing my life so you'll let me out of jail or give me parole" — not options for Skillicorn — "or even not to execute me, for that matter," he says. "The only special consideration I feel I've obtained that is important out of being a Christian is from God Himself — absolution, forgiveness for the things I've been involved in."

The events leading up to and following Drummond's murder were described in devastating detail by Paula Barr. A 15-year veteran reporter for The Kansas City Star, Barr was working the crime-and-courts beat during the summer of 1994, when the Good Samaritan Killers joined the FBI's Most Wanted list. In an article dated September 1, 1994, Barr described Skillicorn as "terrifying to look at, missing a couple of front teeth, mean and strong."

She is now Skillicorn's wife.

"He was just another criminal to me when I covered his case and trial," Barr, who now goes by Paula Skillicorn, writes in a letter to The Pitch.

Skillicorn, then 35, met 22-year-old Nicklasson at the Salvation Army rehabilitation center in downtown Kansas City. The older man was staying at the shelter as a condition of his parole; he had already spent 13 years in prison for the 1979 murder of an 81-year-old Missouri farmer, killed while Skillicorn and two others robbed the farmer's home in Levasy.

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