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Seminole grandmother waives extradition to stand trial for murder in Illinois

Shirley Skinner of Seminole, accused of killing her granddaughter’s estranged husband in Illinois last year, waives extradition in court via video conference from the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday. The 74-year-old was arrested in Clearwater on Monday.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Shirley Skinner of Seminole, accused of killing her granddaughter’s estranged husband in Illinois last year, waives extradition in court via video conference from the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday. The 74-year-old was arrested in Clearwater on Monday.

SEMINOLE — A woman accused of killing her granddaughter's husband waived extradition in court Tuesday. She agreed to return to Illinois to stand trial, which must take place within 120 days.

Meanwhile, officials say more arrests are possible in the November slaying of Steven Watkins, 32, in Ashland, Ill.

Shirley Skinner, the 74-year-old grandmother of the victim's estranged wife, was arrested Monday in Clearwater on first-degree murder charges as she left a pizza restaurant with family members.

With Skinner during her arrest was her 31-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer Watkins, whose husband was killed with a single gunshot to the back of his head.

Steven Watkins was killed when he went to Skinner's home for a court-ordered visitation, authorities said. The Watkinses were in the midst of a divorce and a battle for custody of their 2-year-old daughter, Sidney. He was to seek full custody of Sidney at a court hearing the next day.

On Tuesday, Skinner appeared via video conference from a room in the Pinellas County Jail. Wearing a dark blue jumpsuit with white stripes, she answered three questions before her attorney introduced himself and informed the judge that she had waived extradition that morning.

Dan Fultz, one of two Springfield lawyers representing Skinner and her granddaughter, was initially stunned by the courtroom full of reporters interested in a case from a tiny county in central Illinois.

"At some point, we knew someone was likely to get arrested," Fultz said. "We did not know who they would arrest and we did not know what the delay was in the investigation. At this point, we know what their intentions are."

Shirley and her husband, Kenneth Skinner, Jennifer Watkins and Sidney were all in the house when police arrived in response to a call of a custody dispute and found Steven Watkins dead, Ashland police Chief Jim Birdsell testified at Watkins' inquest, according to the Journal-Courier in Jacksonville, Ill.

"State police said at the press conference that the investigation is ongoing and that additional arrests are possible," Fultz said.

Fultz said he did not expect Jennifer Watkins to be arrested.

Authorities were aware that Watkins, her daughter and her grandmother moved to Seminole shortly after Steven Watkins' death.

Fultz said Skinner, who owns a mobile home at 513 Skipper Drive, is "obviously upset" and "troubled" by her arrest but that it "did not come as a complete surprise because she knew someone would be arrested."

The arrest did, however, surprise many in the small mobile home complex where Skinner and her husband have owned a unit since the late 1990s.

"It was quite a shock," said Eleanor Gray, 73, president of Lake Seminole Estates, a 151-unit complex for people at least 55 years old. "I still don't believe it."

Gray got a knock on her door Monday night from an Illinois police officer who told her of the murder charge against her neighbor.

"I just can't comprehend that she's even capable of it," Gray said Tuesday.

Normally, Skinner and her husband would pop in and out of their Florida home, Gray said. But Skinner and the grandchildren arrived several months ago, regularly using the community pool and making improvements to the landscaping.

"I just figured they were here for summer vacation," Gray said. "She wasn't any different this time than any other time she's been here."

Skinner and her husband often helped with disaster relief efforts, she said, and were always friendly.

Steven Watkins' mother said she felt better now that there has been an arrest.

"I'm glad that somebody is being charged with Steven's murder," Penny Watkins said. "I do feel better. I feel like it's been a long battle. I feel like it's not over yet."

Penny Watkins she did not initially consider Shirley Skinner a suspect but became curious when she was subpoenaed by Skinner's attorneys in an unrelated child services case, she said.

Though she called an arrest "long, long overdue," Penny Watkins said there will never be closure. "This is just a hole in our family that will be there forever," she said.

According to his mother, Steven Watkins served in the Coast Guard for eight years before moving to Springfield to work for the Illinois child services hotline taking calls from those having trouble making child support payments.

No one answered the door at Skinner's residence Tuesday morning. A Cadillac with Illinois plates was in the carport.

Times staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report. Brant James can be reached at brant@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8804.

Seminole grandmother waives extradition to stand trial for murder in Illinois 10/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 10:44am]

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