Adopted teen gets life in prison for plotting parents' murders; ruling prompts review
02/01/2016 12:11 pm PST
They snuck in the house in the middle of the night of November 12, 2010: Two masked men with knives in their hands and murder on their minds.
"Unfortunately for me that night is like a movie in my head that plays, unfortunately every detail of that night I remember," said stabbing victim Mara Skinner.
Mara Skinner was stabbed 26 times. It's a miracle she's alive to talk about the brutal attack that killed her husband and tore apart her family.
It was after midnight when the two knife-wielding thugs broke into a back window of the Skinners' home in Yale, Michigan, about 60 miles northeast of Detroit.
Mara and her husband Paul were in bed when the assailants plunged their blades into their bodies.
Paul was stabbed 23 times. Mara was left in the house, critically injured, while Paul, bloodied and battered, chased the intruders out. But his wounds were too much. He collapsed and died moments later.
Who could have done this?
At 8 o'clock the next morning, Michigan State Police show up at a house with guns drawn.
They collared 18-year-old James Preston. Cops say Preston was one of the masked men; they say the other was 18-year-old Jonathan Kurtz
What was the motive? It turns out Kurtz was dating the Skinners' 17-year-old adopted daughter, Tia. And in a shocking twist, cops said Tia orchestrated the whole plot.
She was apparently upset that her parents didn't approve of her dating Kurtz. All three were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
"I support that it wasn't for me to decide what the consequence was, it's what the law decided, and what's unfortunate and unfair is that as the law changes, they bring victims back to places we shouldn't have to go back," said Mara.
But today, Tia's life sentence is in doubt.
In a landmark ruling in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court says a sentence of mandatory life in prison without parole for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment. Tia was only 17 at the time of her father's killing.
Tia could possibly end up back in court with a new sentence, a minimum of 25 years. If that happens, Mara will have to again testify against Tia.
"It brings us right back to the crux of what happened right back to the core. It hurts, every time," said Mara. "And I think victims get forgotten and that's what brings me to this point, where I'm able to say to you 'I was a victim, I don't ever want to be forgotten' in terms of being less important than a defendant."
But that defendant is her own daughter. Can Mara ever forgive her?
"Is there still love there, can there be love there?" said Mara. "Love isn't a light switch. It's not something you can turn on and off."
Mara says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her therapy is volunteering at the county's victims rights office.
Mara has since remarried, but for this Michigan mom the joy of living is forever tinged with pain.