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Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 12:52 am

Sidney Watkins back in Illinois

Girl was center of 2008 murder

The late Steven Watkins with his daughters Sidney (right) and Alex.


Sidney Watkins is back in Illinois and living with her late father’s kin.

The 9-year-old girl whose father Steven was murdered by her maternal grandmother returned to the area about three weeks ago after her mother, Jennifer Watkins, was arrested in Massachusetts for violating a court order requiring visits between the little girl and her paternal grandparents. Jennifer was freed shortly after her arrest in Massachusetts, but child protective authorities retained custody of the girl. Sidney is now living with a paternal aunt pursuant to a court order, said Michael Goldberg, Jennifer Watkins' lawyer. Jennifer is also back in Illinois and scheduled for a December hearing in Cass County Circuit Court.

“Jennifer has supervised visitation twice a week, and they’re investigating what they consider to be neglect,” Goldberg said. “It’s our opinion that the child is being unnecessarily put in the middle of the situation. … It has to be very confusing for a child her age to be forced to visit with her mom in a supervised way.”

Penny Watkins, Sidney’s grandmother and the mother of the girl’s late father, has been fighting for years to see the girl, who had been living with Jennifer and the family of her father's killer since the 2008 murder. Since returning to Illinois, Sidney has been enrolled in public school, where she’s getting A’s and has already found a best friend, Penny Watkins said. She is, Penny says, doing well, although she is set to receive counseling.

“It’s all getting to know each other,” Penny Watkins said. “The first thing we had to establish is, we’re a family, and we trust each other. A lot of things are new to her. … From what I understand, she has not had a big social life.

"She's doing real good. It's like she fit right in."

Prior to being reunited with her paternal relatives, Sidney had been told that her father's family wanted to steal her away from her mother, Penny Watkins said. Sidney knows what happened to her father, who was gunned down from behind when he went to pick her up for a court-ordered visit in the midst of bitter divorce proceedings, she added.

“None of our family told her – she knows because she has been informed,” Penny Watkins said. “She didn’t know the truth, but she does now.”

At trial in 2010, prosecutors said that Shirley Skinner, Sidney’s maternal great-grandmother, shot Steven Watkins in the back of the head because Skinner and her family, including Jennifer Watkins, considered the little girl, then just 18 months old, to be their property and that Steven Watkins should not be allowed to see the girl. Skinner was sentenced to 55 years, essentially a life term considering that she is 81. The killing came shortly after a judge signaled that he would allow expanded visits between the girl and her father, whom Jennifer Watkins had accused of sexual abuse after divorce papers were filed. Investigators concluded that the charges were false.

Goldberg said that Jennifer Watkins is concerned about losing permanent custody of her daughter.

“That’s the path we’re on right now,” Goldberg said. “This is a serious step that the state has taken to place her (Sidney) in foster care. While it doesn’t mean for sure she’s going to be put up for adoption, it is a serious step. That’s what concerns us the most.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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