Marine veteran pleads guilty in wife's death to avoid capital trial
By MIKE MCHUGH | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: March 28, 2018
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — “I shot my wife. I dumped the entire clip in her."
These words, read by District Attorney Ernie Lee, were told to Onslow County Sheriff's Office investigators after a Marine shot his wife 15 times on July 13, 2014.
"I was tired of her nagging me. She’s been riding me for a year and a half," Lee read to the court.
On Tuesday, Christopher Michael Skaggs, 36, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Skaggs sat between his capital defender team of Jacksonville lawyer Richard McNeil and Brook Smith-Shallotte during the Tuesday morning hearing before N.C. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Charles H. Henry.
Skaggs was charged in the murder of his 30-year-old wife, Jordan, on July 14, 2014. His capital murder trial was scheduled to begin on April 2.
Lee addressed the court in a half-hour narrative of circumstances of the fatal July 13, 2014 evening when Jordan Peters Skaggs was gunned down by her husband. Lee said Jordan Skaggs and her three children, ages 2, 5 and 7 at the time, spent the day at neighbor’s pool while her husband washed his cammies at home.
As Lee spoke, family members of both the defendant and the decedent sat silently in rapt attention, some audibly sobbing.
Lee said Onslow County Sheriff's Office deputies received a call of a shooting at 501 Cherry Blossom Lane in Richlands at 9:45 p.m.
When deputies arrived they found Skaggs’ wife “lying dead in the front yard" from 15 gunshot wounds, Lee said. Later, her autopsy indicated Jordan Skaggs was trying to flee from her husband as she died, Lee said.
Skaggs was an active-duty Marine who had been deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once, McNeil told the court.
He was less than two months from medically retiring after being treated by the Marine Corps for more than a year for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“After three deployments, Christopher came back a different person,” McNeil told the court. "Up until July 14 (2014), he was a hero."
McNeil said both husband and wife needed help, alluding to Jordan Skaggs' use of alcohol — her autopsy showed a blood alcohol content of approximately 0.30 while the legal limit is 0.08 — and bipolar disorder.
Russell Coffey, husband to Jordan’s mother Melody, addressed the court in a brief prepared speech where he described Jordan as being part of the community as a “mother, daughter, sister and aunt. She belonged to all of us.” He then asked the court to find ways to ways to “eliminate or contain evil that’s found in this world.”
McNeil said, “this is a tragic event. This is one of the worst cases in my 40 years of practicing law. Christopher and Jordan are both victims."
McNeil took a swipe at North Carolina’s legislators who wrote the sentencing guidelines for life without parole.
“This case is an example when politics gets involved. The sad thing is they have made it a mandatory life sentence rather than a judge having an opportunity to consider all the circumstances and all the backgrounds of the individuals involved. Then the judge can make the decision in terms of what is the appropriate sentence. The legislation has taken away from the court and just made it mandatory,” McNeil said.
McNeil later told The Daily News that some murder cases are worse than others, and Skaggs getting the same treatment as someone without his extenuating circumstances is "unfair."
Lee said, “I believe it’s an appropriate law,” and was happy with the plea rather than taking on a trial that he expected to last for four weeks.
“There were two young children that would have to testify and he had to weigh that out. This family has been through a lot already," he said.
Had Skaggs gone to trial, it would have been the first capital case tried in Onslow County since 2002 when Angelito Maniego was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping, among other charges, but Maniego also received life without parole.
After court Melody Coffey described her daughter as a “beautiful woman who loved music, the outdoors and her children.” Coffey said Jordan was a “wonderful cook” who involved her children in everything she did.
Melody Coffey continues to talk to her daughter every day, she said.
While standing next to her husband who held a picture of Jordan, Melody Coffey said, “I miss you so much. You’re part of my very being. I will see you again one day."
"You are not forgotten. I love you.”
©2018 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)
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