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Death Sentence Imposed in Multiple Murder

May 24, 1988 GMT

MARSHFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ A dairy farmer accused of killing seven members of his family was sentenced to die for three of the murders Tuesday.

In ordering the sentence for James Schnick of Elkland, Judge John Parrish followed the recommendation of a jury that last month convicted Schnick of killing his wife Julie, 30, and nephews Kirk Buckner, 14, and Michael Buckner, 2.

Prosecutors had chosen not to try Schnick in four of the killings.

″I thought the jury had sufficient evidence to render the verdict and the sentence that they did,″ Parrish said after Tuesday’s hearing.


Schnick, 37, who stood with his legs shackled, shook violently as the judge imposed the death sentence. The only alternative would have been life in prison without possibility of parole.

Parrish asked Schnick if he believed he had been represented adequately by Susan Chapman, a state public defender, and Webster County Public Defender James McNabb.

″I don’t know for sure,″ Schnick said, adding that he would like to talk with other attorneys.

Schnick was taken immediately to Jefferson City, where officials at the state prison said 59 inmates already were on death row. Missouri lawmakers approved reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977 but no one has been executed by the state since 1965.

Before sentencing, Parrish overruled a motion by Schnick’s attorneys for a new trial. The state Supreme Court reviews all death penalty cases and will consider issues raised in the motion, which include an objection to jurors being shown what defense attorneys called ″inflammatory’ ′ photographs of the victims before and after their deaths.

The jury convicted Schnick April 14 after a week-long trial that included a videotaped confession by the defendant. They recommended the death penalty the next day.

Schnick also was accused, but not tried, in the deaths of his brother-in- law Steve Buckner, Buckner’s wife Jeannette, and their two other sons, Dennis, 8, and Timmy 6. Buckner and Mrs. Schnick were brother and sister.

All the victims were killed early Sept. 25 at the Schnick and Buckner dairy farms. Schnick claimed that day that Kirk Buckner killed his family before dying in a struggle with Schnick, and the gun used in the shootings was found in Kirk’s right hand. But authorities’ suspicions turned to Schnick after it was discovered Kirk was left-handed.


County prosecutor Donald Cheever alleged that Mrs. Schnick knew her husband had a mistress and may have enlisted the support of her brother and his family and asked Schnick for a divorce the evening before they were killed.

The defense said Schnick had told investigators that Steve Buckner had molested Mrs. Schnick when the two were young and that tension stemming from that may have led Kirk Buckner to commit the murders.