Man pleads guilty in 2017 killing of UNC Charlotte professor

Man pleads guilty in 2017 killing of UNC Charlotte professor
Skinner (Source: UNC Charlotte's Department of Psychological Science website)
Skinner (Source: UNC Charlotte's Department of Psychological Science website)
Dr. Jeannine Skinner (Photo provided to WBTV)
Dr. Jeannine Skinner (Photo provided to WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A man accused of killing a UNC Charlotte professor last year pleaded guilty in court Friday.

Donny Lewis Franklin, 45, is accused in the killing of 35-year-old Jeannine Skinner, an assistant professor of gerontology and psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at UNC Charlotte.

Friday, Franklin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Skinner's death. He will spend at least 28 years in prison.

In court, Skinner's brother said he has served multiple tours overseas but nothing he has seen compares to seeing his sister's lifeless body with over 200 stab wounds. "I don't know why this man is allowed to exist," the brother said.

Skinner's father, Curtis Skinner, offered words of forgiveness. "This defendant is a brother of Christ and he needs to know that I forgive him."

"You have to forgive someone, that is easy to say, but to actually do and be sincerely in that effort, it takes your entire being," said Curtis Skinner. "That chapter is closed. We are doing a new walk now."

Jeannine Skinner's mother, Beverley, said she could leave in peace knowing that her daughter's life was given justice. "Unfortunately, Jeannine's life was taken in a horrible manner, but we realize that God has a hand in everything that happens in life," said Beverley.

Bryant Skinner, Jeannine's younger brother, spoke about his sister, an inspiration. "The group here today just speaks to her body of work and she unified people. Jeannine had that ability that whoever she interacted with, she would draw them in," he said.

Skinner's body was found in her apartment in the Ayrsley community in southwest Charlotte Sept. 1, 2017.

Authorities were searching for Franklin in connection with the case and considered him to be armed, dangerous, and possibly suicidal.

CMPD says they received a call to do a welfare check at an apartment in the 9300 block of Kings Parade Boulevard. Police said Skinner was found inside one of the apartments with "obvious trauma."  She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Franklin was expected to appear in court on Thursday to enter a plea but was it was postponed. Neither one of Franklin's attorneys showed up in court.

The hearing was rescheduled for Friday morning after the prosecutor told the court that the defense attorneys indicated there was an error in their calendars.

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"Very painful but it looks like that was a planned move," said Dr. Skinner's aunt, Angela. "Very unfortunate but it's okay, the support and love she had today will show up tomorrow."

Angela Skinner was one of several family members who came in from out of state for Franklin's Thursday's court appearance. They were surrounded by Dr. Skinner's friends, church members, and UNC Charlotte colleagues.

In fact, they filled six rows of one half of the courtroom.

On Friday, Franklin's lawyers apologize to the Skinner family for the 'scheduling' error that delayed the hearing. He says it was not a tactic or intentional.

UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois released this statement on Jeannine Skinner:

"Dr. Skinner joined our faculty two years ago and was known as a well-regarded and dedicated teacher and mentor who fostered an inclusive and open classroom learning environment. She was an active and caring scholar whose research focused on physical, psychological, social, and environmental predictors of cognitive aging, particularly in minority geriatric populations."

Jeannine Skinner mostly taught undergraduate students but also mentored graduate students at UNCC, colleagues said.

Her colleagues described her as the bright light of the psychology department with an infectious laugh and smile.

"She was growing as a teacher and as a scholar and we were happy to have her here," Eric Heggestad said, who is the interim director for the Department of Psychological Science. "Some of the faculty members noted they were just getting to know her, we're going to miss her."

She was an avid runner that participated in half marathons regularly. She paired her love for running and her love for psychology and gerontology in a grant program.

Jeannine Skinner used state grant money to create a program from low income, minority seniors who did not have a place to exercise. She found them a place to exercise, in hopes that it would keep them from slipping cognitively.

Jeannine Skinner was in the process of applying for a national grant to replicate the program in other places around the country.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte created the "Dr. Jeannine S. Skinner Memorial Scholarship" in honor of the slain professor's memory. School officials set up a crowdfunding  page to raise a total of $15,000 towards the scholarship. So far, over $13,000 had been raised.

School officials said Skinner was "passionate about providing opportunities for student research and learning." The scholarship will fund graduate student research and provide funds for conference travel opportunities, officials said.

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