New trial possible for attempted-murder convict Skinner

Former South Beach cop skinner accused of trying to kill estranged wife

kwadlow@keynoter.comJanuary 17, 2014 

A Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy fingerprints William "Tom" Skinner after a judge convicted him of attempted second-degree murder in 2009.

FILE PHOTO BY KEVIN WADLOW

A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that a retired police captain serving a life sentence from a 2009 shooting on Plantation Key should get a new trial on attempted-murder charges.

That does not mean William "Tom" Skinner, 58, will be released from the state's Dade Correctional Institution the near future, Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel said Thursday.

"This is not over," Vogel said. "The decision does not say they are reversing everything."

A Monroe County jury convicted Skinner, a former Miami Beach police officer, in May 2011 on two counts of attempted second-degree murder, and one count of armed burglary.

Skinner was arrested June 1, 2009, after he fired six shots during a fracas with his estranged wife and her boyfriend at a Plantation Key Colony home.

The wife's boyfriend survived a bullet wound to his shoulder. The boyfriend was shot as he attempted to hold his front door shut. 

Indira Skinner was choked earlier in the argument with her husband but not hit by gunfire. The Skinners' son, then age 4, was in the house but not physically hurt. 

Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies reaching the scene used a stun gun to subdue Skinner when he apparently reached for another handgun in his car.

After a lengthy trial centering on Skinner's mental state during the attack, the jury voted to convict on the second-degree attempted murder counts, rather than premeditated attempted murder. 

Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia sentenced Skinner to life on two separate counts, one of attempted second-degree murder and one of armed burglary. Skinner was given 15 years on the remaining attempted-murder conviction. 

On Wednesday, the state's Third District Court of Appeal ruled that a "fundamental error" in state-approved jury instructions in effect during the 2011 trial did not properly allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of attempted manslaughter.

"Because of language in the standard jury instruction, there was no real distinction between [attempted] second-degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter," said Deana K. Marshall, a Hillsborough County attorney handling Skinner's appeal. "The jury did not have the opportunity to make that distinction."

In February 2013, the Florida Supreme Court found in a separate case that standard jury instructions for manslaughter were fundamentally flawed.

The Third District Court of Appeal ruled that Skinner's case was essentially similar, like several others statewide.

"Skinner correctly argues that he is entitled to relief on the attempted manslaughter jury instruction issue," says the new decision. 

The appeals court also said a previous attorney handling an earlier Skinner appeal made a "serious error" in not raising the jury-instruction issue during a previous appeal.

The Jan. 15 ruling does not hold local prosecutors or Garcia responsible for the reversal. "That was the law as it stood at the time," Vogel said.

The Florida Attorney General's Office and the Monroe County State Attorney's Office have asked for a clarification of the four-page decision handed down Wednesday in Skinner's case.

"He also was convicted of the armed-burglary charge that has a life sentence attached to it," Vogel said. "Our position is that the burglary conviction is still there and not reversed."

The Jan. 15 appeals decision does not become formal for several weeks.

Assuming the armed-burglary conviction stands, local prosecutors may decide not to pursue a new trial on attempted murder, Vogel said. 

"That was a very expensive case since [Skinner] raised the insanity issue and we had to bring doctors in," she said. 

If it does go a retrial, Vogel said, "We have lawyers, and we won it before."

 

 

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