"It's like salt in the wound."
Randy and Susie Skeen agreed to a plea agreement for the teen who killed their 16-year-old son as a step toward forgiveness and an offer of hope for a new life after prison.
But they were shocked and outraged by a defense attorney’s comments after Monday’s plea and sentencing hearing for 14-year-old Kaden Barefoot.
The parents said attorney Gregory Bushway’s version of what happened when their son, Ryan Skeen, was shot once in the neck in the driveway of his home Oct. 26, 2015, is a “slap in the face” after they extended mercy in agreeing to the plea agreement.
Skeen’s father, who held his son in the driveway waiting for an ambulance to arrive, said it felt like losing his son all over again.
Barefoot, who was 13 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and criminal attempt to commit armed robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He had been charged with murder and would have been tried as an adult.
The prosecution maintained that Barefoot shot Skeen during an attempt to rob the older boy of marijuana. An armed Barefoot rode his bicycle over to Skeen’s home, according to the indictment.
But Bushway told The Telegraph after the sentencing that Skeen was shot in a struggle over a gun that Barefoot had agreed to sell him for $300 worth of marijuana.
Bushway said Skeen was selling marijuana and wanted the gun for protection. Barefoot brought Skeen the gun. But Skeen didn’t have the payment, and Barefoot wanted the gun back. At some point, Skeen pointed the gun at Barefoot, the two struggled, and the gun went off. Bushway planned to introduce cellphone texts as evidence.
But Ryan Skeen’s parents said that’s not true.
“I understand when it was going to court, that attorney was going to say and do anything he can to get his client off,” Randy Skeen said. “But it was done. … There’s no reason to tell this lie now because he’s pled. He pled guilty.”
Bushway could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Skeens said their son was not a drug dealer, but they learned after his death that he used marijuana on a recreational basis, and he might occasionally sell a small amount rather than give it away, his father said.
“He wasn’t a dealer in the sense that he had customers,” Randy Skeen said. “It would be the same as if you’re at someone’s house and say, ‘Hey bud, can I have a beer?’ and he says, ‘Well, I have to pay for that. If you want to buy it, you can have it.’ ”
Skeen said his understanding of the prosecution’s case was that evidence, including text messages, shows that another teen had set up a meeting for his son to sell Barefoot about a gram of marijuana and that Barefoot had no intention of paying for it. He said the minor had agreed to testify at trial.
Neither Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig nor Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters could be reached for comment.
The parents said the defense made their son look like a hardcore drug dealer, or “the godfather of weed,” while elevating Barefoot to “choirboy status.”
“If that was such a truth that he told, why did he accept the plea?” Randy Skeen asked. “He’d got away with it. He’d been acquitted.”
Skeen then answered his own question.
“Because it wasn’t the truth, and there was absolutely zero evidence to support that story.”
‘I thought it was a prank’
Ryan Skeen’s parents were the first to find him shot.
As they pulled into their driveway after a short trip to a nearby store, Barefoot was standing 4 or 5 feet from their son, who had just fallen to the ground.
“At the time, we didn’t know what had happened,” Randy Skeen said Tuesday as he stood in the driveway demonstrating what he saw. “We didn’t know that he had just shot Ryan.”
They did not see a gun.
Because he and his son often pulled pranks on each other, Skeen said he first thought his son was joking around.
Barefoot turned, and Skeen said, although he did not know what the teen was doing at the time, he now believes Barefoot was putting a gun back in his waistband.
Skeen said Barefoot looked at him and his wife, pulled his hoodie up over his head and walked over to his bicycle that was behind a bush near their mailbox. He got on the bicycle and pedaled away.
Meanwhile, Skeen had gotten out of the car and was beside his son.
“I thought it was a prank, and I actually said, ‘Ryan, if this is a prank, you gotta stop. You’re about to give me a heart attack.’ … But then I saw the blood pouring out, and I knew it wasn’t a prank, and I called 911,” he said.
Ryan Skeen was well-liked, an athlete, and enjoyed skateboarding. He had no disciplinary reports in school, his father said.
Randy Skeen was proud of his son for working with animal rescue groups to spay or neuter 29 cats and find homes for them.
Susie Skeen said she feels like the focus has been on the fact that Barefoot was 13 at the time of the shooting. But she wants people to remember her son was only 16.
“We are missing graduation. We’re missing prom. … His getting married, children, you know, all that, and every family experience that we have that is joyful is dimmed because there’s an empty seat,” she said.
His parents keep his ashes in an urn in the living room.
“That’s how I have my son now — that and pictures,” Susie Skeen said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the measurement for an amount of marijuana. Randy Skeen said his understanding of the prosecution’s case was that evidence shows another teen had set up a meeting for his son to sell Kaden Barefoot about a gram of marijuana.