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Murder suspects to receive separate trials

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A woman charged with murdering her husband, Donald Ray Skinner, will be tried separately from her co-defendant and one-time lover.

A Clayton County Superior Court judge granted the request to sever the cases of co-defendants, Carolyn Allene Skinner and Charles Alan White, on Wednesday, at the request of Skinner's lawyer.

Reached for comment via e-mail, Skinner's attorney, Malcolm Wells, said the case separation was the "only move" to make in defending the 50-year-old woman.

According to police and prosecutors, Allene Skinner was cheating on her husband, Donald Ray Skinner, with a Farmers Market police officer, Charles Smith. Smith and Allene Skinner are charged with murdering and conspiring to murder the 49-year-old truck driver.

The beneficiary of her husband's $90,000 life insurance policy, the widow allegedly convinced Smith to ambush her husband as he delivered a load of fresh fish to a truck depot last June. Allene Skinner told detectives she was waiting for her husband, sitting at a nearby Waffle House, and they were going to spend the day fishing. Detectives allege, however, she was driving the police officer's personal vehicle, and was actually waiting to hear that he had successfully killed her husband.

Allene Skinner adamantly denies the charges.

"She had a fling with Mr. Smith and nothing more," attorney Wells wrote. "No matter how deluded his thoughts and wants, they are simply that -- a delusion. She never wanted him the way he wanted her, and she never asked him to kill her husband. He chose to do that on his own. Simply, the only thing standing [in his delusional mind] in the way of him having the woman he wanted was her husband."

However, Smith has confessed to killing Donald Skinner. He claims Allene Skinner asked him to do it.

Smith's attorney, Joe Roberto, has asked the district attorney's office to show his client mercy. Roberto has offered a plea deal -- in which Smith pleads guilty to manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against Allene Skinner -- but it has been rejected by prosecutors.

Chief Executive Assistant District Attorney John Turner said he has a strong case against both defendants, and intends to hold them accountable for murdering Donald Skinner.

Roberto said the separation of the cases won't affect Smith.

Wells said a jury, seeing the man and woman sitting at the same defense table, might assume they are connected, an assumption that could lead them to find her guilty, whereas, he wants them to think Smith acted alone.

"I think it inappropriate to have her sitting with her husband's killer," Wells wrote. "That may cause a jury to believe that she is tied to this man."

Judge Geronda V. Carter, approving the motion for severance, wrote there must be "more than the possibility that a separate trial would provide [the] defendant with a better chance of acquittal ... defendant must establish a clear showing of prejudice."

Co-defendants cases can be separated, the judge wrote in her decision, if a joint trial would cause the jury to confuse evidence, if evidence implicating one defendant will be considered against the other defendant, and if the co-defendants' defenses involve attacking each other.

Carter found a joint case could "cause the jurors to unjustly infer guilt."

The separate trials have been scheduled for mid-March.