In an appalling 2010 case, a teenager in Michigan was sentenced to life
in prison without the possibility of parole for plotting the murder of
her adoptive parents. Now, the case is facing review due to a landmark
case that was handed down in the United States Supreme Court in 2012.
Tia Skinner was only 17 years old when she planned the murder of her parents.
The men who carried out the plot were 18-year-old James Preston and 18-year-old
Jonathan Kurtz. As the details of the terrible case unfolded, it was revealed
that Tia was dating Kurtz—a relationship her parents did not approve.
According to police officers, Tia orchestrated the plot to kill her adoptive
parents, Paul and Mara Skinner in their home in Yale, Michigan, just 60
miles northeast of the city of Detroit.
The night the plan was to take place—November 12, 2010—Preston
and Kurtz entered the Skinners’ residence by breaking into a back
window sometime after midnight. Both 18-year-old boys were carrying knives.
The couple was in bed when they were attacked. Paul Skinner was stabbed
23 times, but he still managed to get out of bed and chase the attackers
out, protecting his wife Mara, who was seriously wounded. Paul Skinner
collapsed just moments after successfully forcing Preston and Kurtz to
leave his home.
Although Paul Skinner died from his fatal knife injuries, Mara Skinner
survived. She then had to go through the painful experience of testifying
against her own daughter in the ensuing murder trial. All these years
later, Mara Skinner continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). She volunteers with the St. Clair County’s Victim’s
Rights office, finding that helping others has served as a valuable form
All three of the individuals charged in the case—Tia Skinner, James
Preston, and Jonathan Kurtz—were convicted of murder in the first
degree and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Mara Skinner
says she supports the court’s decision, emphasizing that it was
not her decision to make. The result of the case belonged in the hands
of the justice system. What she believes to be wrong is the possibility
of reliving this painful ordeal.
“What’s unfortunate and unfair is that, as the law changes,
they bring victims back to places that we shouldn’t have to go,” she
Crime Watch Daily.
After being sentenced, Tia may be going back to court with the possibility
of receiving a new sentence with a minimum 25 years. This is due to a
new ruling from the United States Supreme Court that was handed down in
2012. The decision for
Miller vs. Alabama found that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility
of parole is “cruel and unusual punishment.” Because Tia was
just 17 years old when the killing occurred, she could return to court
for a new and lighter sentence.
The other two convicted in the case—Kurtz and Preston—are not
eligible for re-sentencing, since they were both 18 years old when the
crime occurred and are therefore considered adults in the legal system.
How Do You Feel About This Case?
Kurtz and Preston were only a year older than Tia when the crime she orchestrated
was committed. Was she truly less culpable due to her negligible age difference
in a crime that resulted in her adoptive father’s murder?
In addition, is it right that Mara Skinner should be forced to relive the
worst day of her life and testify against her adopted daughter all over again?
“It brings us right back to the crux of what happened—right
back to the core,” Mara told
Crime Watch Daily. “It hurts, every time. And I think victims get forgotten. And that’s
what brings me to this point, where I’m able to say it to you: I
was a victim. I don’t want to ever be forgotten in terms of being
less important than a defendant.”
The Michigan Supreme Court will hand down a decision on whether or not
Tia should be re-sentenced—this time by a jury instead of a judge.
What do you think should happen? Is the precedent and principle of avoiding
egregious penalties for minors more important than the outcome of this
individual case? Should Tia Skinner’s barely-minor status at the
time of the murder factor in her sentencing? Let us know your thoughts!