Monday, May 11, 2009

Missouri Bishops Seek Clemency for Death Row Inmate

Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn joined fellow Missouri Bishops and other faith leaders last week in asking Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to commute the death sentence of Dennis Skillikorn to life in prison.

Skillicorn was convicted in the 1994 murder of Richard Drummond. The Missouri Supreme Court refused to stay his May 20 execution date today.

A measure with bi-partisan support to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri is still being seriously considered at the state capitol. The Missouri Bishops also support that measure and Bishop Finn addressed it in his Good Friday column, excerpt:
So dignified and worthy of reverence is the human person that Jesus Christ determined, while we were still sinners, to lay down His life for us, that we may have life. Each human person has infinite value despite our failures and even our most horrible sins.

Today I wish to offer a plea for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in Missouri. I know various other leaders and organizations have made similar appeals. Traditionally the U.S. Bishops have used the occasion of the commemoration of Jesus’ execution on Good Friday as the moment to seek the grace of this clemency. I have joined the Missouri Bishops on more than one occasion in requesting this of our State government, and I wish to renew my petition for this relief.

Missouri has the opportunity to accomplish something very important: to pass a moratorium bill that would halt executions in our state for three years and establish a commission to study the practice of capital punishment in our state. This commission would report to the legislature, governor, attorney general, and the State Supreme Court. Currently, the Senate is considering only a study commission, while the Assembly is still considering a full moratorium bill. I urge our representatives in the Missouri Legislature to support this legislation for a full moratorium along with the study commission.

One item from the Missouri religious leaders' letter to Governor Nixon speaks directly to clemency for Skillicorn but also to the need for a moratorium and study commission, my emphases:
Mr. Skillicorn has never denied his involvement in the robbery and kidnapping of Mr. Drummond, but he did not commit the murder. No one disputes that Mr. Drummond was taken in the woods and shot by co-defendant Allen Nicklasson.
Mr. Nicklasson has consistently taken full responsibility for the murder and the decision to kill Mr. Drummond. He also has steadfastly maintained that Mr. Skillicorn thought Mr. Nicklasson intended to tie up the victim so they could escape with his car before he could walk to a phone and call police. This position is substantiated in Mr. Nicklasson’s statement to law enforcement officers after his arrest, in a post-conviction deposition from an FBI agent and in letters and a statement from Mr. Nicklasson to Mr. Skillicorn and his attorneys.
Had the jury heard this testimony, they may not have held Mr. Skillicorn to the same level of accountability as Mr. Nicklasson. The death of Mr. Drummond was part of a cross-country spree resulting in the murder of a couple in Arizona. Again Mr. Nicklasson has taken full responsibility for these murders, indicating Mr. Skillicorn was not physically involved in actually killing Mr. Drummond. In Arizona Mr. Nicklasson had threatened Mr. Skillicorn with a gun to prevent him from leaving. Mr. Skillicorn received a life sentence for his role in the Arizona murders.

Facebook users can show their support for the moratorium by joining the cause page set up by the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.

Following is a list of the religious leaders who petitioned to Governor Nixon:

Rev. Mr. Lawrence A. Weber
Executive Director and General Counsel
Missouri Catholic Conference

Most Rev. John Gaydos
Bishop of the Diocese of Jefferson City

Most Rev. Robert Finn
Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Most Rev. Robert Hermann
Archdiocese of St. Louis

Most Rev. James V. Johnston, Jr.
Bishop of Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Bishop Gerald Mansholt
Bishop Central States Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Jim Hill
Executive Director, Baptist General Convention of Missouri

Rt. Rev. Barry R. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of West Missouri

Rev. Jeffrey A. Whitman
Missouri Mid-South Conference United Church of Christ.

Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith
Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Missouri

Bob Quinn
Executive Director, Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW)

Dominican Sisters
Sparkhill, New York

St. Louis Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Institute for Peace and Justice