By Daniel Silliman
They talk about being happy. They talk about being together. They talk about how Allene Skinner, the 52-year-old woman accused of murdering her husband, will live with her daughter and see her grandkids grow up.
And then Skinner, sitting in jail in an ugly jumpsuit, sighs and says to her daughter, "Kristi, do not get involved with a man. You can see where a man will put you."
The way Kristi Shirley explained things, her mother has a problem with men. Shirley has believed this for a while, and when Allene Skinner was separated from her husband, Donnie Ray Skinner, Shirley begged her to stay single. Shirley said she wanted her mother to herself.
She said, "Please, don't get involved with nobody else," but her mother didn't listen.
Allene Skinner grew up in Greenwood, Miss., and left home at the age of 21, pregnant and going with her boyfriend to Alabama. At 35, with a teenage Shirley in tow, Allene married Donnie Ray Skinner, a truck driver, and left Alabama for Georgia.
Shirley remembers the relationship as rocky. She said Donnie Ray Skinner "wasn't a family man," and she remembers feeling pushed to the side.
"She did everything she could to do everything Donnie wanted," Shirley said. "He was very deceitful. He would promise her things, like buying her a home and supporting her, and then he'd get mad and he wouldn't give her money ... I begged her not to get involved with anybody else."
After 16 years with Donnie Ray Skinner, Allene started an affair with an Atlanta State Farmers Market police officer, Charles Smith. She met Smith at a truck stop in Forest Park, and in November 2006, they were married in an unofficial ceremony. She had never divorced Donnie Ray Skinner.
Seven months after the unofficial wedding, in June 2007, Smith shot Donnie Ray Skinner to death in the parking lot of a truck depot, where Skinner was dropping off a load of frozen fish. Smith, who pleaded guilty to murder, said he waited in the dark in the parking lot with his police pistol, and then he shot his girlfriend's husband four times. He said Skinner's last word was, "Why?"
When he plead guilty, two months ago, Smith said the answer to the question was Allene Skinner. He said he never would have been a murderer, if he hadn't met that woman. He said she manipulated him, twisted him around, and convinced him to kill her husband.
Police and prosecutors believe Allene Skinner wanted the life insurance policy, worth $90,000, and they allege that she conspired with Smith to commit the murder.
She allegedly had tried, as far back as 1997, to find someone to kill her husband for the money, and she has a history of desperate finances, evictions, unpaid bills, bounced checks and check forgery.
She is set to go on trial Monday, on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Donnie Ray Skinner's sisters describe the woman as a pathological liar, someone possessed by the Devil, and someone who's simply evil. Donnie Ray Skinner's father describes Allene Skinner as "the re-incarnated Marie Laveau," a legendary "Voodoo woman."
Donnie Ray Skinner's son, who lived with Allene Skinner from the age of 6 to 18, said she is conniving and manipulative.
Kristi Shirley said none of that is true. She said her mother is a kind person and an honest person, who is devastated by this, and breaks down crying when she sees her daughter through prison glass.
"She wasn't evil," Shirley said. "She raised his kids, for, like, 13 years ... My mom would never, never, never, never do anything like this. She tried to break up with Charles, he lost his mind, and did it out of love. I believe, honestly and truly, that my mom didn't do it."
Allene Skinner faces the maximum possible sentence of life in prison, but when she and her daughter talk, they don't talk about that. They don't talk about the possibility that this is how they will always talk, from now on, with Allene Skinner sitting in prison. They talk about the future, about being happy and being together, talking as if they're sure it will happen.
"We make plans for when she does come home," Shirley said. "When she comes home, we're going to take time for it just to be me and my mom, for us to be happy, and for her to be with her grandchildren."