The sexual assault victim was hours away from receiving the justice that eludes most survivors.
On this very day, she would have been able to see her admitted attacker sentenced. That rarely happens. Most sexual assaults are never reported. It’s estimated that only about 6 percent of rapists will spend a day in jail.
Dennis A. Skeen died March 23. He used a nail gun to take his own life. One can only assume he chose this gruesome end to avoid prison. He’d already pleaded guilty to charges of attempted rape, sodomy and sexual abuse, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor said.
In April 2015, Skeen was caught on camera dragging the woman’s limp body off a chair at a downtown restaurant, shoving her clothes aside, fondling her and then attempting to rape her.
The prosecutor’s office had to drop the charges after confirming the 40-year-old Blue Springs man’s death. The victim, the prosecutor’s office reports, was quickly notified. There was nothing else they could do.
Closure is a nebulous concept for people who have been traumatized by sexual assault. Yet the term gets tossed around in our society. Skeen serving time in prison should have been the final chapter after a shocking assault.
The initial response, unfortunately, was all too predictable, with some people questioning the woman’s behavior, as if she were to blame for the criminal acts that Skeen later admitted committing that night.
Two years ago, Skeen was a co-owner of a pizza business that operated out of Duke’s on Grand, at the corner of Truman Road and Grand Boulevard. It’s a prime location, situated just south of the Sprint Center and only recently reopened as a new restaurant.
The building has banks of windows that allow passersby to look into the bar. That’s how Skeen was caught. Three men walking by glimpsed the scene inside.
It was late, after closing time, when the men saw Skeen assaulting the woman. One told police he thought she was either dead or seriously injured, as her partially nude body appeared lifeless.
One man pounded on the window, trying to get Skeen to stop. He did, covering the woman’s private parts with a bag. Then he began dragging her unconscious body toward a back room.
Another man called 911. Police arrived and broke a window to get in, arresting Skeen and taking the still unconscious woman to the hospital.
The details horrified the public at the time. Skeen’s actions seemed so brazenly cruel and inhumane, even more so because he did this within sight of anyone who was close enough to peer into the bar’s windows.
The details should have given pause to those who are quick to question a woman’s behavior after a sexual assault is reported, rather than questioning the criminal acts alleged.
Skeen used alcohol to ply his victim, and perhaps even a date rape drug. The woman later told police that she had two beers with Skeen at the bar, then drank two shots he gave her. That was at about 3 a.m. She remembered nothing after that moment. The men saw Skeen assaulting her nearly three hours later.
It took a warrant to get the surveillance video, which documented Skeen’s criminal acts.
There are no good outcomes here. Skeen had a wife and children. Surely they are grieving too, reeling from the charges, his plea and his death. He likely presented a different version of himself to them. A memorial service is planned for later this summer, according to Skeen’s obituary.
Hopefully, the victim has found some peace and support since that night.
But she will never see justice fully served. That’s not the fault of police or prosecutors. And she came so close, only to have it cruelly snatched away by the man who tried to rape her.