By Daniel Silliman
The legal answer didn't satisfy the murdered man's mother.
Wearing sweatshirts bearing a picture of his face, the family of Donald Ray Skinner clustered around the Clayton County prosecutor, asking for their loved one's alleged killers to be sentenced to death.
The courtroom was crowded for the Wednesday morning arraignment calendar and the family wanted to hear if Skinner's wife and the police officer accused of killing him, and conspiring to kill him, would plead guilty. But they also had questions for the assistant district attorney.
"Are y'all going to go for the death penalty?"
John Turner, executive assistant district attorney, said, "no." Georgia law requires that a murder meet standards of "aggravating circumstances," before a prosecutor can seek the death penalty, he explained to Carol Skinner, Donald's mother, and Candy Adams, Donald's sister.
There are, legally, 12 aggravating circumstances, including torture and hired-killings, but there's no evidence of those things in the June 9 murder of Donald Skinner, a 49-year-old truck driver.
According to investigators and Officer Charles Smith's confession, Smith ambushed Skinner and shot him four times, because of Smith's affair with Skinner's wife, Carolyn Allene Skinner, and because she asked him to kill her husband of 17 years.
Carol Skinner has heard this answer before. She knows the district attorney's office isn't going to seek the death penalty, but she still doesn't understand it, and she still had to ask.
"Donnie Ray was crippled," she said. "He couldn't run and he couldn't walk, except on his tiptoes. That man chased him across the parking lot, shooting at him. He was crippled and he was shot in the eye, is that not torture?"
Turner, wearing a dark suit and standing by the railing which divides the audience from the lawyer's table and the judge's bench, began to shake his head. He began to say that even in especially horrific murders, juries tend to shy away from the death penalty ... and seeking capital punishment is a lengthy and complicated process, not to be taken perfunctorily. He was interrupted by the bailiff.
"All rise," the bailiff said. "Court is now in session. Honorable Judge Geronda Carter presiding."
The Skinner family sat back down, their question answered and, yet, still persisting. The family crowded into the first two pews in the center of the courtroom. They waited, quietly watching lawyers announce pleas of guilty and not guilty, and wondered if they would be allowed to wear the sweatshirts to the trial.
Charles Smith, and his lawyer, the prosecutor announced, have filed paperwork pleading not guilty, and would not be appearing for arraignment.
Carol Skinner held a clenched, white handkerchief to her mouth.
As one, the two pews of family members turned to look at Allene Skinner when she entered the courtroom through a side door. A tall, gray-haired, 51-year-old woman, she wore a green jumpsuit and shackles around her hands and feet. Allene Skinner shuffled toward her lawyer, never looking at her mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, or brothers-in-law.
Her lawyer, Malcolm Wells, smiled. As far as he's concerned, he has said, the only thing the woman is guilty of is being good in bed.
Candy Adams describes Allene Skinner as "a voodoo woman, like in that song." Carol Skinner wants her put to death.
Allene Skinner, for her part, was silent, shuffling across the courtroom to stand in front of the Superior Court Judge.
"How are you pleading?"
Wells, wearing a red bow tie at his throat, looked at his client, raising his eyebrows.
"Not guilty," he said, and she nodded quickly.
"Not guilty," she said.
A trial date has not yet been set.