Father of two Donny Franklin, 45, appeared in court Tuesday to face first-degree murder charges for allegedly killing Jeannine Shante Skinner, 35, a rising professor at UNC Charlotte, PEOPLE confirms

By KC Baker
September 06, 2017 03:42 PM
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A North Carolina man has been arrested and charged with allegedly murdering a UNC Charlotte professor believed to have been his girlfriend inside her apartment last Friday, PEOPLE confirms.

Donny Franklin, 45, appeared in Mecklenburg County Court on Tuesday morning, less than a day after he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Jeannine Shante Skinner, 35, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

Franklin showed no emotion when the judge told him he could get the death penalty if found guilty of murder, local news station ABC Columbia reports.

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Donny Franklin, 45
| Credit: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police

Franklin’s attorney said he denies the charges against him, according to local news station WSOC TV. Calls to Franklin’s public defender were not immediately returned.

An employee in the Mecklenburg County Court Clerk’s office said he could not confirm whether Franklin entered a plea on Tuesday because he did not yet have the records.

Skinner was found dead in her apartment on Friday morning after officers were called to do a welfare check, the Charlotte Observer reports.

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Details of her death are unclear at this point. Police only said that Skinner was found with “obvious trauma,” local news station WBTV reports.

Skinner had only been dating Franklin a few weeks, which is why her colleagues didn’t know she had a boyfriend, according to WSOC.

Skinner was an assistant professor of gerontology and psychology in the Department of Psychological Science, according to the university’s website.

Police have released little information about the case, but investigators say Skinner’s death appeared to be domestic violence-related, local news station MyFox8 reports.

Shortly after finding her body, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police issued a warrant for Franklin’s arrest, calling him “armed and dangerous” and possibly suicidal, according to the Observer.

‘A Rising Star in the Academic World’

In a statement issued to faculty and students on Saturday, UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois said, “We grieve for Jeannine’s family, and we hope that joyful memories of her life will sustain them in the days to come. I hope those of you who were her students and colleagues will remember Jeannine for her accomplishments and for the influence she had on your lives.”

Skinner began working at the university two years ago. Before that, she was an adjunct faculty member in psychology at Belmont University and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., UNC Charlotte spokeswoman Buffie Stephens told the Observer.

Skinner received her Ph.D. from Howard University in 2010. She studied at the University of Washington school of medicine and was a research instructor at Vanderbilt University’s medical center from 2013 to 2014, Stephens said.

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Eric Heggestad, interim chair of the department of psychological science, told the Observer that Skinner was on her way to a bright future.

“One of our other colleagues called her a rising star in the academic world, and I think that’s absolutely right on,” Heggestad told the newspaper. “She was going places as a professor in terms of researching and teaching.

“She was just such a wonderful, bright light in this world,” he said. “She will definitely be missed here.”

Franklin is the father of two sons in their twenties and worked full time for a medical supply company for the past five years, WSOC TV reports.

He is being held without bond in Mecklenburg County Jail, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

Calls to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the Mecklenburg County Jail, the district attorney and the public defender’s office were not immediately returned.