Jury convicts ex-Miami Beach cop of attempted murder — (Miami Herald)

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Miami Herald

By KEVIN WADLOW and DAVID GOODHUE

A retired Miami Beach police captain could face life in prison after a jury convicted him Friday on two counts of attempted second-degree murder in a 2009 shooting at a Plantation Key home.

William “Tom” Skinner, 55, fired six shots from his .357-caliber revolver after an argument with his estranged wife, Indira, turned violent on June 1, 2009. Jesus Ruvalcaba, Indira’s boyfriend, suffered a gunshot wound when a bullet passed through his shoulder.

A wooden door pierced by two bullets leaned against the wall of the Plantation Key courtroom during Thursday’s closing arguments at the end of the weeklong trial before Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia.

Indira Skinner earlier testified that her husband tried to strangle her, and she fled with couple’s 4-year-old son as the shooting started.

Skinner was tried on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, and one count each of burglary with a firearm and committing battery during a burglary. The jury convicted on the armed-burglary charge, but acquitted on the lesser burglary count.

All three convictions carry the possibility of a life sentence, prosecutors said.

In his closing, defense attorney Jerome Ballarotto worked to paint a picture of Skinner as a mentally troubled man goaded into violence by his estranged wife and physically threatened by her new boyfriend.

“You think she didn’t know she was pressing his buttons?” Ballarotto asked the jury. Skinner “was a total mess — sobbing, crying, totally gone… Tom was feeling like a lost puppy.”

Prosecutor Colleen Dunne contended it was “a conscious decision by that man to kill his wife and Jose… This man was angry, upset and depressed. That’s not someone who was psychotic. That’s somebody who was mad.”

Dunne used a digital presentation to outline the nature of the four felony charges, and to show pictures of wounds suffered by Indira Skinner and Ruvalcaba.

She carried Skinner’s silver .357-caliber revolver, its chamber open, while describing how Skinner retrieved it from a case in his car after attacking his wife.

“He went there with two guns and a next-of-kin [suicide] note,” Dunne said. After a struggle, “he gets his gun and starts shooting.”

Defense attorneys Cara Higgins and Ballarotto argued the violence was more of a mutual brawl than an attack, and that the jury should consider a “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense.

During his testimony, Skinner said he did not remember large parts of the shooting. Ballarotto said Skinner suffered a “psychotic episode” that rendered Skinner “insane at the time of the offense.” Dunne countered, “Saying ‘I don’t remember’ does not mean ‘I didn’t do it.’ ”

Much of the trial focused on conflicting testimony of mental-health experts, who reached different conclusions on whether Skinner was legally sane, and whether medications might have driven him to violence.

Dunne said after the trial that recorded telephone calls Skinner made from jail to one of his adult sons proved the defendant was in control of his faculties. “I know it was a mistake,” Skinner said in one call before telling his son how to find records of Skinner’s investment accounts.

Ballarotto said the complex case left “a lot of grounds for appeal.”

Indira Skinner, 17 years younger than her husband, reportedly told the defendant over the phone four days before the shooting that she was moving out with their son. Ballarotto said she did not tell Skinner that she was staying in a man’s house, so Skinner was startled when Ruvalcaba came out of another room.

Ruvalcaba reportedly was shot when he was trying to hold the front door closed. Skinner had already fired his gun into the door; he reached inside and fired more rounds, according to testimony. When Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived at the home, they used a taser to subdue Skinner.

“When a wife leaves her husband, it does not give him the right to kill her, or the person she left him for,” Dunne said. “Divorce is the remedy, not execution.”

Skinner will remain in custody until sentencing, currently scheduled for August.