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Skinner Requests Early Release from Prison

Illinois Department of Corrections

An elderly woman convicted in a notorious central Illinois murder case is asking the governor to let her out of prison.

Shirley Skinner is just a few years into her 55-year sentence. A jury convicted her of murdering her granddaughter's estranged husband, Steven Watkins, shooting him in the back of the head. He had come to their house in Ashland to visit his daughter.

Addressing the Prisoner Review Board on Wednesday, DePaul University law professor Andrea Lyon argued Skinner, age 78, is sick and no threat to anyone.

“We are asking simply that a commutation of sentence be had so that Mrs. Skinner may go home and be with her husband of over 60 years,” Lyon said. 

But the victim's other daughter -- 14-year-old Alex Watkins -- urged the Board to reject Skinner's plea.

“It's easier knowing that the person who forced me to live without my father is also living without her loved ones,” Watkins said. 

Credit Brian Mackey
Ashley Clement, sister of victim Steven Watkins, holds a sign urging “no mercy” for Shirley Skinner.

The Prisoner Review Board will make a secret recommendation about Skinner's request, but the decision whether to commute her sentence rests only with Governor Pat Quinn.

Brian Mackey covers Illinois state government and politics from the WUIS Statehouse bureau. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6020.