Missouri court sets execution date for convicted killer

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Supreme Court on Monday set a May 20 execution date for a man convicted of killing a Good Samaritan in 1994.

Dennis Skillicorn, who narrowly escaped lethal injection last year, would be the first person executed in Missouri since October 2005.

Skillicorn, 49, was one of three men convicted of killing Excelsior Springs businessman Richard Drummond after he stopped to help them when their car broke down on Interstate 70 in Callaway County.

Drummond was forced at gunpoint to drive the men west toward the Kansas City area. In Lafayette County he was taken into a wooded area and shot twice in the head.

Supporters have sought to keep Skillicorn off the condemned list, arguing that his work with terminally ill prisoners and a family-strengthening program for inmates and their children proves society is better with him alive.

But former Lafayette County prosecutor Page Bellamy and others say Skillicorn was one of three men who acted together to kill Drummond.

Bellamy told The Associated Press for a story in February that Skillicorn took the wallet out of Drummond's pants before ordering a third man to "empty the clip in his head."

Allen Nicklasson, the admitted triggerman, has maintained all along that he acted alone and said Skillicorn's life should be spared.

A third defendant, Tim DeGraffenreid, who was 17 at the time of the killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sent to an undisclosed prison to serve his time.

Skillicorn's execution previously was put on hold over claims that prison officials obstructed efforts to prepare a clemency petition.

Other legal issues had put Missouri executions on hold for nearly four years.

Last week, Skillicorn's attorneys asked a federal judge in Kansas City to stop Gov. Jay Nixon from being the one to decide on clemency for Skillicorn. They want the court to convene a board of inquiry to determine if he should serve life in prison, rather than be executed.

Attorney Jennifer Merrigan said the request is based on Nixon's involvement, as attorney general, in blocking her access to Department of Corrections staff witnesses in the earlier clemency attempt.

"We believe he cannot meaningfully consider that evidence," she said.

Nixon said in a statement that he fully appreciates "the gravity and finality of capital punishment," and that he would "carefully review the record on this case and any petition for clemency submitted by Dennis Skillicorn."

Nixon also asked that Missourians remember Drummond, and keep his family in their prayers.

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