In this Nov. 1, 2005 file photo, Chester D. Turner listens during a preliminary hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles. A jury has recommended another death sentence for Turner, who’s already on death row for murdering 10 women in the Los Angeles area. The panel on Thursday, June 26, 2014 recommended that Turner should be put to death for killing four other women between 1987 and 1997. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
A convicted serial killer who was sent to death row seven years ago for murdering 10 women was sentenced on August 1 to death for killing four other women in the Los Angeles area between 1987 and 1997. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry said there was “compelling” evidence of Chester D. Turner’s participation in the crimes and “irrefutable” DNA evidence against the 47-year-old defendant, who was brought back from death row at San Quentin State Prison in March 2011 to stand trial on the latest charges. The judge denied the defense’s motion for a new trial for Turner and an automatic motion to reduce the jury’s June 26 recommendation of a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying that the jury’s finding was “fully supported by the evidence.”
The judge said it was clear that “for many years defendant Turner hunted women in the inner city,” saying that there is “no doubt that he is a danger to society.”
Turner was convicted June 19 of four counts of first-degree murder, with jurors finding true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder with a prior murder conviction from 2007. Two of the newest charges involved the deaths of 28-year-old Deborah Williams, who was found dead Nov. 16, 1992, at the bottom of a stairwell leading to a boiler room at 97th Street School, and 42-year-old Mary Edwards, who was found dead Dec. 16, 1992, in a carport outside a motel at 9714 S. Figueroa St., less than a quarter-mile from the school where Williams’ body was discovered. Turner was also convicted of the June 5, 1987, killing of 33-year-old Elandra Bunn in the Figueroa Corridor area of Los Angeles and the Feb. 22, 1997, killing of 30-year-old Cynthia Annette Johnson, who was killed in Watts.
Turner, who was sentenced to death in July 2007 for murdering 10 women between 1987 and 1998, was returned from San Quentin State Prison to stand trial on the four murder charges, which were filed in February 2011. Prosecutors said DNA evidence linked Turner to each of the killings, and that he lived or worked near each of the murder scenes.
“We had four different victims and their family members, and they were all entitled to see justice done,” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said after the trial about the decision to try Turner on the latest murder charges after he had already been sent to death row. “We certainly weren’t going to deprive them of that opportunity.”
Silverman told jurors that Turner was a “serial killer” and a “sexual predator” who went “hunting” for his victims, who were all strangled. Three of the 14 women were pregnant at the time, with one’s fetus considered viable. Just before Turner was sentenced, one of Johnson’s sisters, Gwendolyn Cameron, said, “What he took from our family can never be replaced.” Williams’ aunt, Verna Belvin, said, “I have to forgive him … It’s not that I won’t forget.” Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace — who prosecuted Turner in both of the murder trials — told jurors that the defendant had “caused untold tragedy,” leaving a dozen children motherless in the latest case.
“You have a man whose crime wave has swept through a neighborhood,” Grace told jurors in his closing argument in the trial’s penalty phase, in which jurors were asked to recommend whether Turner should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. One of Turner’s attorneys, Jonathan Roberts, had urged jurors not to make their decision based on hate.
“This isn’t about revenge,” the defense lawyer said.
Jurors deliberated less than 1 1/2 days before returning their recommendation that Turner be executed for his crimes. During the trial’s guilt phase, another of Turner’s attorneys, Kieran Patrick Brown, noted that the defense was not disputing the counts on which Turner was convicted in 2007, but told jurors the conviction “does not mean that he’s guilty of the ones he’s charged with” in the newest case. Brown said the prosecution was allowed to introduce evidence of five of the prior murders on which Turner was convicted, along with a rape, in an effort to show a “pattern” by his client. The defense attorney noted that a sexual assault kit taken from Bunn’s body had been inadvertently destroyed and questioned when other DNA evidence found near the scene — which prosecutors said linked Turner to the killing — had been left there.
“We’re asking you to critically, critically examine all of the evidence in this case,” the defense attorney told jurors in his closing argument.
Turner, an Arkansas native and former pizza deliveryman, was described by prosecutors as the city of Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer when he was sentenced to death in July 2007. In addition to his death sentence, Turner was sentenced to a separate 15- year-to-life term for the second-degree murder of the unborn baby of one of his victims, Regina Washington, who was found dead in September 1989. Along with Washington’s slaying, Turner was previously convicted of first-degree murder for the killings of:
• Diane Johnson, who was found dead in March 1987 and is not related to Cynthia Johnson
• Annette Ernest, who was found dead by a passing motorist in October 1987
• Anita Fishman, who was killed in January 1989
• Andrea Tripplett, who was 5 1/2 months pregnant with her third child when she was strangled in April 1993: Turner was not charged with killing her unborn child because it was not considered viable under the law in place at that time.
• Desarae Jones, who was killed in May 1993
• Natalie Price, whose body was found outside a home in February 1995
• Mildred Beasley, whose body was found in a field in November 1996
• Paula Vance, who was strangled in downtown Los Angeles in February
• 1998 during the commission of a rape, which was caught on a grainy black-and- white surveillance videotape
• Brenda Bries, who was found dead in the Skid Row area in April 1998.
Turner lived within 30 blocks of each of the killings — with Bries’ body discovered in downtown Los Angeles just 50 yards from where he was living at the time, according to prosecutors. Turner was linked to those killings through DNA test results after being arrested and convicted of raping a woman in the Skid Row area in 2002. After Turner was sent to death row, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division continued to investigate the other four killings for which he has since been convicted.