Friday, August 1, 2014
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chester D. Turner is no stranger to murder or the punishment that comes with it. He squeezed the life out of more than a dozen women during a decade of terror, and two juries decided he should die for his crimes.
So it was merely a formality Friday that Turner, already on death row for 10 murders, was given four more death sentences for what a prosecutor called the city's most prolific serial killing.
Turner, 47, looked straight at Judge Robert Perry as he handed down the penalty for the string of inner-city killings during the crack cocaine epidemic. As Turner was led from court, he cursed at the prosecution and said, "I'll be back."
Turner is one of at least three men blamed for a series of killings once thought to be the work of a solo killer dubbed the "Southside Slayer." More than 100 women in South Los Angeles were killed during the violent era when highly addictive crack made people desperate enough to turn to prostitution to support their habit or led to other crimes.
Turner was convicted of 14 of those slayings, plus the killing of a pregnant victim's fetus, from 1987 and 1998, making him the city's most prolific killer, prosecutor Robert Grace said.
Family members of the victims were relieved the case was closed. They joked and laughed as they rode the courthouse elevator with prosecutors after the brief hearing.
"It's judgment day," said Gwendolyn Cameron, whose sister Cynthia Johnson was a victim in the most recent case. "He got what he had coming. The sooner they execute him, the better we'll all be. He's a menace to society."
Turner was serving time for rape when genetic evidence connected him to 10 killings in South Los Angeles. The victims had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Their bodies were dumped in alleys, a burned-out garage and a portable toilet.
Most were suspected prostitutes, some were crack users and some were just snatched off the streets.
A grainy surveillance tape played at his first trial showed the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Turner in the act of killing Paula Vance, whose body was found at a vacant office building in February 1998.
Turner was convicted and sentenced in 2007 to death in those 10 cases, plus an additional term of 15 years-to-life for the death of the viable fetus.
Evidence emerged later that linked him to the killings of Elandra Bunn, 33, in June 1987; Deborah Williams, 28, in November 1992; Mary Edwards, 42, in December 1992; and Cynthia Annette Johnson, 30, in February 1997. All were choked to death, mostly by hand.
Another man, David Allen Jones, served 11 years for three of those killings.
Jones, a former janitor with the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, was freed after DNA evidence pointed to Turner and prosecutors determined Jones' confessions were coerced by police.
Defense lawyers acknowledged that Turner had sex with women in exchange for drugs, but they argued he wasn't a killer.
"He denies to this day that he killed anybody," defense lawyer Kieran Patrick Brown said.
After the death sentences were delivered Friday, Turner asked the judge why prosecutors had insisted on capital punishment after they once offered him the chance of life in prison without parole for the four murders. The judge didn't answer.
Outside court, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman explained that prosecutors had offered the plea deal before trial, but Turner rejected it.
"He's never taken responsibility for any of these crimes. So what are we going to do, give him four freebies? Those are four lives," Silverman said. "He's a remorseless animal."
Whether Turner is ever executed is another question.
There are 745 inmates on death row at San Quentin State Prison. More than 160 have been sentenced to die since executions were put on hold in 2006 because of court challenges over the lethal injection method.
Turner has been sentenced to die twice since then.