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Las Cruces murderer could be released on parole

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: May 15 2013 09:24:50 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 18 2014 11:53:41 AM CDT

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Vina reports.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -

A Las Cruces man who murdered his wife and her three children could be granted parole this year.

Jackie Gannon still remembers the events that changed her life in 1979.

Her stepfather Clifton Skidgel shot and killed her mother. Then he came after her.

"He came into my room, and I was on my hands and knees begging him, even called him dad, saying, 'Daddy, go away, go away. Why are you doing this to us? Please, please don't!' I was screaming, and then I was shot," Gannon told ABC-7.

Gannon survived that night, but her mother and three siblings were all shot and killed.

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decades-old legal fight waged by the inmate that Skidgel should be eligible for a parole hearing in September after serving 10 years of his second sentence of life imprisonment.

A judge in a 1985 appeal had agreed with prison officials and concluded that Skidgel would be required to serve at least 60 years — a minimum of 30 years for each of the consecutive life sentences.

Skidgel was sentenced in 1980 after pleading guilty to the shooting deaths of his wife and three of her children, ages 16, 13 and 8.

Skidgel maintained that at the time of his plea he had been advised by his attorney that he would be eligible for parole in 20 years.

Skidgel was paroled in 2003 on the first life sentence and began serving the second in a state prison.

The Supreme Court agreed with Skidgel’s jailhouse appeal that his parole eligibility had been wrongly calculated. However, the justices emphasized that it was not up to the court to decide whether the 61-year-old inmate should be paroled. That determination will be made by the Adult Parole Board.

There were confusing changes in law in 1977 and 1980 to require inmates to serve 30 years rather than 10 years before being eligible for parole on a life sentence.

The murders occurred in September 1979 — shortly after a 1977 law had gone into effect on a delayed basis in July 1979, establishing the 30-year requirement. However, another 1977 law had left the 10-year parole eligibility provision in place.

Skidgel’s sentencing happened several months after a 1980 law took effect to clear up the confusion created by the earlier conflicting changes in state law.

Skidgel, who served as his own lawyer in his habeas corpus petition, argued that he should have been eligible for parole after serving 10 years on his life sentences. He pointed out that a federal appeals court in 1989 had overturned the state Supreme Court and determined that an inmate needed to serve 10 years, rather than 30 years, in a similar parole dispute.

The 1980 law sought to require those convicted of first-degree murder after July 1, 1979, to serve at least 30 years before being eligible for parole. However, the federal appeals court said the law couldn’t be applied retroactively.

The justices noted that Skidgel had unsuccessfully challenged his sentencing several times in post-conviction appeals in district court, but it was the first time his parole eligibility issue had made it to the state’s highest court.

Gannon was terrified to hear the news. She said she does not want to spend the rest of her life in fear.

"Does my life end now? Will I start to just exist every day again? I don't know. I think I've become a lot stronger with everything I've had to endure, but we cannot go back in time and change what happened. I cannot bring my family back no matter what I do, but I will fight for justice because they deserve that," she said.

Gannon said she will be at Skidgel's parole hearing in September. Until then, she said she is filing an appeal to the federal court to try to get his hearing delayed.

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