State sides with prosecution in Skinner shooting appeal

kwadlow@keynoter.comFebruary 5, 2014 

An appeals-court decision favoring a former police captain sentenced to life in state prison for a Florida Keys shooting should be reversed or clarified, says a new motion filed Thursday by the Florida Attorney General's Office.

William "Tom" Skinner, 58, remains in the state's Dade Correctional Institution while issues from his successful appeal are reviewed.

The "most pertinent fact regarding the jury instruction was that the petitioner asserted the defense of insanity," says the motion to the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, filed Jan. 30 by Attorney General Pam Bondi and Assistant Attorney General Michael Mervine.

"The contested issue in this case was whether the petitioner's mental health met the criteria of the insanity defense, not whether the petitioner shot Jesus Ruvalcaba," it says.

The appeals court said in a Jan. 15 decision that the standard jury instructions read to the Skinner jury while considering homicide and manslaughter charges was "fundamentally flawed" on the basis of "requisite intent," and grounds for a new trial.

Skinner, formerly a captain with the Miami Beach Police Department, was arrested in June 2009 after he fired six shots from a handgun during an argument with his estranged wife and her boyfriend at a Plantation Key Colony home. Ruvalcaba, the boyfriend, survived being shot in the shoulder. The wife was not wounded by gunfire.

After a lengthy trial in 2011 centering on Skinner's mental state during the attack, the jury voted to convict on two counts of attempted second-degree murder rather than premeditated attempted murder. He also was convicted of armed burglary.

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

The appeals court in January said the state-approved jury instructions in effect during Skinner's 2011 trial did not properly allow the jury to consider a lesser charge of attempted manslaughter.

"When a defendant pleads insanity, he or she is not disputing the requisite intents for attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder or attempted manslaughter by act," says the new state motion. "This defense renders the different requisite intents at issue here irrelevant."

State prosecutors also want the court to clarify whether the life sentence on armed burglary "causing great bodily harm" is affected by the appeals ruling on attempted homicide.

Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel said her office supports keeping Skinner imprisoned on the armed-burglary sentence.

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