A middle school teacher described in court Tuesday how her mortally wounded husband fended off two masked men who stabbed them in their bedroom in the middle of the night, chasing them from the home before collapsing and dying.
Facing Mara Skinner in the crowded Port Huron courtroom Tuesday was her 17-year-old adopted daughter, Tia, who along with two 18-year-old men, including her boyfriend, is charged in the Nov. 12 attack that left Paul Skinner dead.
Tia Skinner, Jonathan Kurtz and James Preston have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, assault and conspiracy in the attack on the couple. They could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted of murder.
During Tuesday’s preliminary hearing to decide if the case would proceed to trial, Mara Skinner was composed as she spoke about the attack in their home in Yale, about 85 miles northeast of Detroit.
She said days before the attack, on Halloween, she and her husband forbade Tia from hanging out with Kurtz, who lived with his parents about six miles away.
“We had talked about friends that were in his peer group,” Mara Skinner said. “And that was something I didn’t want her exposed to at all.”
She said on the night of the attack, she and her husband went to bed in their second-floor bedroom at about 11 p.m. and that she was resting comfortably when her husband shouted “Hon! Hon!”
“At the same time, I felt blunt force to my back and to my neck,” Mara Skinner said. “I was being attacked and my husband was being attacked. I was screaming. My husband was screaming.”
Skinner said she couldn’t see her attackers until her husband turned on the light in their second-floor bedroom.
“I saw a knife ready to come down. I grabbed it,” she said. “I said ‘no! You have to go, go, go. Jeff is here right now.”’
She was referring to her son, Jeff Skinner, who was visiting from his home in the Grand Rapids area. Jeff Skinner ran up from the basement when he heard the commotion. Tia stayed behind.
The attackers fled with the bleeding Paul Skinner chasing them out the front door. He made it back into the home but collapsed and died.
Tia Skinner, Kurtz and Preston were arrested hours after the attack.
The couple’s son, 20-year old Jeffrey Skinner was next to testify.
Skinner said he and his sister Tia were watching a movie in the basement, and that he first realized something was going on upstairs when he heard a rumbling noise.
At one point his sister had gone up the stairs, returned and told him “there’s something wrong. There’s something wrong,” Jeff Skinner testified.
He said he heard loud, repetitive thumps and then saw a large amount of blood on the walls and the base of the stairs. Skinner said he followed a trail of blood and then saw his father reenter the house, blood-covered and disoriented.
He also went upstairs to help his mother. Skinner said he called for his sister to help, but she said “I can’t come up there, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”
Tia Skinner remained in the basement during the attack and after calls to 911 brought police to the house, he said.
St. Clair County sheriff’s deputy Jeff Green testified Tuesday that the girl appeared reserved when questioned in the basement and when placed in the rear of a patrol car. “She was so calm,” Green said. “I asked ‘Do you know what happened up there?’ She said, ‘No, but my brother said it was bad.”’
Green later testified that during a search outside the house, he found a white slip of paper on the ground near the home’s privacy fence. On it was a diagram of the neighborhood, with names of families written in the spots where their houses were located.
Where the Skinner’s home was depicted was written “my house,” Green said.
Prior to testimony Tuesday, defense attorneys for Tia Skinner, Kurtz and Preston asked Judge John Monaghan to adjourn the hearing. Monaghan denied the request.
Sharon Parrish, Preston’s lawyer, said the defense attorneys had not received some of the prosecution’s discovery evidence.
This is the first murder case in the small town of Yale in 15 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.