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An audit of Kansas' death penalty in 2003 got down to dollars and cents. State auditors, working at the request of the Kansas Legislature, found that the court costs for seeking the death penalty are 70 percent more than for a life sentence, with a median cost of $1.2 million for a capital case, compared with $740,000 for a noncapital case.
Deeken professes concern for the wrongly convicted, but he's no closet abolitionist. He wonders aloud why a condemned prisoner is allowed to stall his execution with lengthy and costly appeals — the only tool a convict has to present mitigating, sometimes exonerating, evidence. "Alls you need is one trial," Deeken says, "and if he's guilty, you put him to death."
Barr's evolution from detached reporter to Skillicorn's wife and greatest advocate happened relatively quickly.
Looking back on her reports from Skillicorn's trial in 1996, Barr writes, "I was surprised to hear that Nicklasson had done all the killing. Police assumed that he [Skillicorn] was the killer and the leader of the threesome. That is what they imparted to reporters. Instead, it turned out that Nicklasson had been in charge and had even considered killing Skillicorn when they were on the run."
But some things that came out at trial didn't make it past The Star's editing process, Barr writes. "By the time the story had gone through three editors and a copy editor, information that contradicted the existing stereotype had been replaced with background from my earlier stories."
That same year, she left The Star.
Not long after, Barr decided to write a book about Drummond's murder. She conducted more than 100 interviews on the backgrounds of the Good Samaritan Killers. But when DeGraffenreid and Nicklasson wouldn't speak to her on the record, she ditched the idea.
"By that time," she writes, "I had interviewed Dennis many times by phone or in person and we were becoming friends. We began to work together on a project aimed at helping troubled youth, which drew us closer. We soon fell in love."
Skillicorn laughs a little when he says of his wife, "We found out we had a lot in common."
The news caught Barr's former colleagues at The Star off guard. "Most of my co-workers had known me for 10 years, but instead of thinking that if I fell in love with Dennis, there must be something good about him, they chose instead to think I had lost my mind," she writes. "I did not trade my intelligence or integrity for a wedding ring."
Barr and Skillicorn were married in a ceremony at Potosi in 1997.
Barr had a son, Regi, from a previous marriage, and being a stepfather was a new experience for Skillicorn. Kids who visit a parent in prison often have little to do while the adults talk. Skillicorn worked to establish a branch of the 4-H program at Potosi, called 4-H L.I.F.E. (Living Interactive Family Education), to allow children of inmates to befriend one another and play together. The fathers in the program attend a parenting class once a week.