Ashland, IL I’m not quite sure how I feel about the two latest stories I’ve featured being in close proximity to where I was raised. It really was a neat place to grow up…safe. And I suppose, to some extent, it still is a great environment to start and rear a family. That is: if you’re not needing police protection from the Rushville or Ashland Police Departments. Yesterday’s feature story was the tale of Ryan Jones, a 22-year-old who lost his life in a “vehicular accident” and the police allegedly lied about the entire scene. Today’s feature is focusing on the one-year-old murder of Steven Watkins in Ashland, Illinois – where it took a year to make an arrest when there were three adults in that home. I’m not sure if Chief Birdsell thought it was a prime opportunity to conduct a holiday home tour or what was bouncing around that noggin of his – nonetheless, he allowed contamination by not securing the crime scene as there were many in and out of that house. Oh, that and not conducting a gun shot residue test…not calling the Cass County Coroner…the list is vast. After completing the story on Rushville’s PD, I really thought they would win the competition for biggest fuck up. I made that decision in haste.
Before anyone gets the impression I do not support law enforcement, that’s very far from the truth. I don’t support arrogant nor incompetent asswipes who make a mockery of those who are actually willing to do their job. Without further ado, let’s recap the series of events that placed Ashland’s Chief Birdsell in this competition: and place some more focus on the Steven Watkins’ case – a father murdered in cold blood.
Steven Watkins drove into Ashland to his estranged wife’s grandparent’s house to pick up his youngest daughter for his court ordered/approved visitation. I’m sure he was anticipating a less than warm welcome as he and Jennifer were due in court the following day to continue his effort to gain full custody of his child. But I’m fairly sure Steven didn’t plan on getting a bullet through the back of his head.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact we read about this shit every day. What sets this case apart is the best part: how this case was handled. The cast of characters are some I know so very well. So let’s get to it.
Steven’s estranged wife, Jennifer Watkins, was staying with her grandparents, Kenneth and Shirley Skinner. When Steven arrived to pick up his daughter, Jennifer, Shirley, and Kenneth were all home. So was little Sidney. There was a 911 call placed regarding a domestic disturbance, Steven was shot from behind, and when Chief Jim Birdsell arrived, the dog and pony show started.
There was a body. There was a gun. The scene started out with 4 people, add Birdsell and whomever he brought along, plus the numerous others that were allowed to walk on in and have a look around. Grandma Shirley started pulling a Fred Sanford, having some flipping medical condition that allowed the focus to shift from the dead dude with his head shot up, to her. Of course they got some medical attention for that poor ailing woman of 74 years. In walks Robert Daniel, owner of MECCA Ambulance, a man I spent many years working beside – fully expecting to find his victim but totally not expecting to find a body sprawled out on the living room floor with a hole through the back of his skull. Knowing Robert (and knowing he is quick on his feet) I’m sure he handled the situation like a pro. Or at least the best one can after finding what he did. Discovering that Chief Birdsell had been there a while and that the Cass County Death Examiner, Wyatt Segar had not been called…well Robert made a command decision to take it upon himself and report the corpse to someone who’d actually give a shit. I can only imagine that conversation…”Hey Segar, it’s Bob. Hey. We’ve got a situation here in Ashland. We got called for a medical and our patient isn’t the one laying on the floor with brain matter scattered. I think you should probably come. Yep, the police chief is here but I don’t think he’s seen the body he’s been tripping over. See you soon.”
Wyatt Segar made the drive in record time, processed the crime scene as a death examiner will as grandma Shirley was being taken to the hospital. God only knows what else was taking place within that home…but the one thing that didn’t take place was a gun shot residue test. Nope. Birdsell didn’t think it was necessary I suppose. Cause shit, if a test was done, he’d actually be responsible for making a decision to arrest someone. He couldn’t decide on calling in a fucking murder.
For damn near a year, Steven’s family has been wondering where their granddaughter was. As soon as the dust settled a bit, Jennifer took Sidney and split the state. Her attorney couldn’t give them a location. Couldn’t let them know little Sidney was okay. The State’s Attorney, John Dahlem couldn’t tell them where they were in making any arrests. Jim Birdsell became a pro at uttering, “No Comment”. This family knew nothing other than the fact that 3 adults knew exactly what happened on November 25, and the authorities had totally fucked the crime scene up so much so, an arrest was looking like a long shot. That’s right: there was a waning feeling that an arrest would be made, in a case where the victim was shot in the head from BEHIND!There’s a name for this kind of thing. Execution style.
Then the State of Illinois came in and yanked the case from Cass County. (oh, it was “turned over”) *ahem* Okay, which ever way you want to read it. But shit started to happen. No one knew. Especially not the Skinner family who were yucking it up at their winter home in Florida. Yucking it up, living the good life until they were leaving a pizza joint Monday evening. That’s when Birdsell was flown in, escorted by officials who actually knew how to handle a situation, and Shirley Skinner was arrested for allegedly being the gun-wielding granny. According to her attorney, Shirley’s “obviously very upset. She’s traumatized by the charges.” Hey lawyer dude: wasn’t she fucking traumatized by having her grandson-in-law laid out dead on her living room floor?
Shirley Skinner was flown back to Illinois September 2nd, and is being held in Pike County (because Cass County has no jail) on a $5 million dollar bond accused of first-degree murder. According to the officials, the one’s who actually made things happen, more arrests may follow. God I hope so. And I also hope Steven’s family gains custody of Sidney so she can join her older half-sister who also resided with her adoring father. The Watkins now have custody of her. I can only imagine it would make the step forward a little easier to take knowing that Steven’s most prized blessings would be safe and sound in the loving arms of a family who displayed patience and grace and not with a family who chose to settle a custody dispute with a Glock 9mm.
In a court hearing on December 1st, the $5 million bail for Shirley Skinner stands until the judge has time to review the Grand Jury transcripts. Her attorney is arguing for a reduction of bail – $100,000 in cash would be ideal. He stated her family would be able to bail her ass out of the slammer and she’d be willing to surrender her passport and wear a home monitoring device. Because of her age and her ties to the community of Ashland, she poses no flight risk. He also states, in referring to the authorities arresting her in Florida, that she was in Illinois a week prior to that arrest and would have turned herself in had she known they were going to charge her. In a bold statement from Chief Birdsell, even he admitted the Skinners had been uncooperative in this investigation. Ya think?
What the fuck is wrong with these people? Seriously. Someone shot Steven Watkins and that “someone” was one of three adults in the house…Shirley, Kenneth, or Jennifer. Murder is typically frowned upon. You know, it is against the law. Surely Shirley ;) is smart enough to deduct some arrest was bound to happen once the case was handed over to the Illinois State Police. Why didn’t she surrender herself a long time ago? Like say…when Steven was lying dead on her floor? It’s not hard to call bullshit on her lawyer’s statement.
During the court appearance, new details were disclosed. They’re awesome.
First, Chief Jim Birdsell was called to testify. Shirley Skinner’s fingerprints were not found on the glock used to shoot Steven. As a matter of fact, there were no fingerprints. Not unusual from what I’ve been told about that particular weapon since it has a textured surface. Although there were no fingerprints on the weapon – the authorities (one’s who actually can do something) found DNA of two individuals. Guess who… yes, Jennifer is a given. Who was the 2nd? According to Chief Birdsell’s testimony, it was “possibly” his! Now, DNA is pretty definitive. It either belongs to one or it doesn’t. There’s no “possibly” to that shit.
“Would it be unusual to find yours on the gun?” the defense attorney asked.“Yes, sir,” the police chief responded.
While Birdsell claims to have worn gloves while he was standing in the Skinner home, (which should be standard operating procedure for anyone who sticks or keeps their thumb up their ass – doctors wear them), it’s hard to grasp how his DNA got on that gun. He seems to be a little befuddled as well. What’d he do? Drool on the damn thing?
It was also revealed that when Birdsell arrived, Shirley was alone gazing at their handy work laying dead on the floor while the others (plus guests) were chilling in another part of the house. It’s been claimed that Steven forced his way into the home, pushed Grandma Shirley to the ground and was attempting to get at Jennifer and his daughter. If grandma’s all sprawled out on the floor (and lest we forget her age) are we to believe that woman was able to spritely grab Jennifer’s gun and deliver a good shot? Why was the gun out?
Shirley is reported as having two marks on her right hand between her thumb and index finger that evening but no photographs were taken because she wasn’t feeling so well and needed that medical attention and well… I’m not sure they even thought about preserving this Kodak moment. A few casual questions, no gun shot residue test, no actual reporting a dead guy on the floor, allowing others into the crime scene, and blowing boogers or God knows what kind of DNA on the murder weapon – it’s no wonder it took almost a year for the local authorities to determine they might need some help thinking this one out. Good God. How the Watkins family still has faith, I’ll never understand but will continue to admire.
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