PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) – A former honors student convicted of plotting to have her father stabbed to death when she was 17 years old was sentenced Thursday to life in a Michigan prison without parole _ the same punishment she first received in 2011.
Tia Skinner returned to court because the U.S. Supreme Court has barred automatic no-parole sentences for those younger than 18 who are convicted of first-degree murder. A St. Clair County judge was free to give Skinner a shot at parole but settled again on a sentence that means she’ll never leave prison.
“Justice demands that you serve not one day less,” Judge Daniel Kelly said.
Skinner was just a month shy of her 18th birthday in late 2010 when two young men attacked her parents in their bed in Yale, 85 miles northeast of Detroit. Paul Skinner was stabbed to death, while Mara Skinner survived 26 stab wounds.
The evidence showed that Tia Skinner orchestrated the attack because she was upset at her parents’ disapproval of her boyfriend, an 18-year-old man who was also convicted in the killing. She left a window open and a ladder outside the house. She drew a map of the neighborhood, used text messages to communicate with the killers and chose knives.
“Tia was the architect of the plan,” the judge said.
Skinner, now 20, said she was sorry for what happened and acknowledged she could have stopped the attack.
“I am the coward that everyone says I am,” she told Kelly.
Mara Skinner was in court but did not speak. Three relatives, however, urged Kelly to show no mercy during emotional statements that seemed to be aimed more at Tia Skinner than the judge.
“How did that knife feel _ foot-long and an inch-and-a half wide? You didn’t just bring a paring knife,” said an uncle, Ken Skinner.
“We’re together. You’re not. You’re out,” he said of the family. “You shouldn’t see no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kelly said the Supreme Court struck down automatic no-parole sentences for teenagers because it felt that vulnerable, immature young people deserved a thorough hearing and shouldn’t be treated the same as adults. But the nation’s top court still didn’t remove the possibility of life without parole.
Defense attorney John Livesay called the attack “egregious” and “incomprehensible” but said Skinner otherwise had a spotless life and deserved a chance at freedom.
The judge, however, said she didn’t suffer from the disadvantages experienced by other kids who don’t comprehend the consequences of committing crimes.
At the time, Skinner was a high school senior soon to be accepted to Western Michigan University. She was active in her church and performed in the school band. Paul and Mara Skinner adopted her after her mother, an inmate at the time, gave birth to her in prison.
“She was not affected by peer pressure. She was not a follower,” the judge said.
The two young men convicted of first-degree murder in Paul Skinner’s death were 18 at the time of the killing and aren’t entitled to a new sentence.
More than 350 Michigan inmates convicted of first-degree murder are serving mandatory no-parole sentences for killings committed while they were teens, but most aren’t benefiting from the 2012 Supreme Court decision so far. The state appeals court has said only recent convicts who haven’t exhausted their initial appeals are entitled to a second hearing like the one granted to Skinner.
A lawsuit pending in federal court in Ann Arbor could help those prisoners serving no-parole sentences for their teenage crimes. Separately, the Michigan Supreme Court also could intervene.
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