By Daniel Silliman
Carolyn Allene Skinner is a liar and an adulterer, according to her attorney.
The attorney said several times, during his opening argument, as Skinner, an austere-looking, 51-year-old woman in a black blouse, tried not to cry.
"My client is a liar," said Malcolm Wells, and Skinner sharply inhaled, and held her shaking chin high. "The evidence will show she slept around on her husband. But the evidence won't show that my client is a murderer," Wells told a jury Tuesday morning.
The prosecution and defense opened the Skinner trial on Tuesday, at about 11 a.m., with explanations of the "love triangle" that left Donald Ray Skinner dead in June 2007.
The prosecution, led by assistant district attorney John Turner, said Skinner plotted and planned to have her husband killed, manipulated her lover, a police officer named Charles Smith, and convinced him to murder her husband of 17 years.
She was allegedly motivated by money. Skinner was the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy, Turner said. The policy was worth about $40,000, according to Turner, unless Donald Skinner, a truck driver, died at work. Then, it would be worth about $90,000.
Donald Skinner was killed at work, after dropping off a truckload of refrigerated Louisiana fish in the middle of the night. Smith hid at the truck depot, about a block from the Atlanta State Farmers Market where he served as a police officer, and then he stepped out to surprise Donald Skinner with a gun.
Turner told the jury of six men and eight women, "Charles Smith shot him four times -- in the eye, in the thigh, in the hand, in the abdomen -- killing him, using the information that Carolyn Skinner had given him ... She was the only person who knew Donald Skinner's driving schedule and knew when he would arrive, and when he'd be pulling into that facility."
Smith pleaded guilty two months ago, and was sentenced to life in prison. He confessed to detectives when arrested, and apologized when he pleaded, saying he never would have become a killer if he had not met the "manipulative" woman.
He is slated to testify against Skinner, but he is trying to avoid it. In pre-trial maneuvers among lawyers, Smith was granted immunity for any other crimes he may have committed, and agreed to testify against Skinner.
When he told Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter he would testify, Skinner cut him a glance and wiped her eyes.
Skinner's attorney got a break, too, in the rush of pre-trial hearings. The judge granted Wells' motion disallowing a claim of "similar transactions." The prosecutor was planning to bring up evidence Skinner sought assistance in killing her husband before, at least as far back as 1997. The "similar transaction" was supposed to show the woman has had a murderous "bent of mind," but Wells successfully argued the instances weren't similar enough, and the jury won't hear the 11-year-old allegations.
Turner said the jurors would see her history, anyway. He told the jury, during his opening statement, they would hear how Skinner lied four times about having an affair, and lied to police about everything.
"You'll see a history, a pattern of lies by Ms. Carolyn Skinner, throughout this case," Turner said.
Wells agreed with that, and he was more aggressive in condemning his client than the prosecution was. But Wells said the police and prosecutors can't make the connection between the lies, the infidelity, and the murder of Donald Skinner.
"Charles Smith had not had a girlfriend in 12 years, and he was madly, emphasis on 'madly,' in love," Wells said. "The evidence will show consequences are like a snowball running down hill.
"The evidence will show her affair caused the death of her husband. The evidence will not show that is what she wanted. That is not what she intended."
Skinner's trial is expected to last most of the week. If convicted, she faces the maximum possible sentence of life in prison.