Los Angeles County prosecutors Tuesday charged suspected serial killer Chester Dewayne Turner, a 37-year-old former pizza deliveryman, with murdering 10 women over more than a decade.
The charges include the special circumstances of murder during rape and multiple murder, which could make Turner eligible for the death penalty.
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley acknowledged Tuesday that the criminal justice system had erred when it sent another man to state prison for life for three killings he did not commit, including two now linked to Turner through DNA testing.
David Allen Jones was “inaccurately convicted of the most serious offense,” Cooley said. “That’s a system failure.”
Cooley said his office plans to review how the wrong man was charged and ultimately convicted.
But Cooley also defended his office, saying that Jones, a mentally disabled part-time janitor, had confessed to using chokeholds on the women and engaging in sexual acts with them.
Cooley also said that as soon as the district attorney’s office discovered that Jones was not the killer, prosecutors immediately went to court to exonerate him. Jones, 44, was released from prison in March.
Los Angeles police detectives said last week that DNA testing linked Turner to 12 slayings that occurred between 1987 and 1998, making him one of the city’s most prolific serial killers. Cooley said that the charges filed Tuesday against Turner did not include the slayings for which Jones was convicted, but that prosecutors might file additional murder counts in the future.
Turner is serving time on an unrelated rape conviction and is expected to appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court later this week for arraignment on the murder charges.
Prosecutors believe that Turner encountered most of the women in South Los Angeles in a 30-block area around Figueroa Street known for drug crimes and violence. They said he strangled each of the women, leaving their bodies in vacant buildings, alleys and stairwells.
Authorities are looking at the possibility that there were other victims outside Los Angeles.
Cooley cited the Turner case Tuesday as an example of why voters should pass Proposition 69, an initiative on California’s Nov. 2 ballot that would create a DNA databank of people arrested in felonies.
The measure would require the state to take a DNA sample from each person arrested in a felony case starting in 2009. DNA samples now are taken from felons convicted of certain offenses, such as murder and rape.
DNA “saved the day” by exonerating Jones, Cooley said. And, he said, it might have prevented some of the slayings by helping police catch Turner sooner.
DNA technology existed during Jones’ trial in 1995, but prosecutors and police did not run the tests in his case. Cooley and his staff explained that prosecutors at the time were confident that Jones’ DNA would not match that of semen and saliva found on the victims, since his blood type didn’t match.
Cooley said the lack of a match did not automatically eliminate Jones as a suspect, though, because the victims could have had sex with more than one person. Cooley cited other evidence that led to Jones’ conviction, including his own incriminating statements to police.
Gigi Gordon, who represents Jones, said she was outraged that her client had spent more than a decade behind bars for killings that he did not commit.
“The criminal justice system is nowhere near as perfect as the average person thinks it is,” she said. “Everybody involved in this case was very experienced. So how did something this obvious escape them?”
Johnna Edwards, 32, was shocked to learn last Saturday that Jones was not her mother’s killer. She said detectives seemed certain in 1993 that Jones had killed her mother, Mary Edwards.
Edwards attended each day of Jones’ trial, doing her part to ensure that he would be convicted and would never leave prison.
Now Edwards dreads having to go through the process all over again, although prosecutors have yet to file new charges in the case.
“We were lied to,” she said. “Now we have to re-grieve our mother’s death. It’s not fair.”
Not only Jones was wronged, she said. “Me and my sisters have been wronged too.”
Suzanne Sulzbach, whose sister Anita Fishman was among the victims named in the charges against Turner, said she remembers the detectives coming to her door and telling her that her sister had been murdered. Although she is relieved that police may have finally solved the murder, Sulzbach said, she has already put it to rest in her heart.
“I had enough faith in God that somewhere along the line this man was going to pay for what he did,” she said. “What comes around goes around.”
In addition to Fishman, the victims named in the complaint are Mildred Beasley, 45; Annette Ernest, 26; Regina Washington, 27; Andrea Tripplett, 29; Desarae Jones, 29; Natalie Price, 31; Paula Vance, 38; Brenda Bries, 37; and one unidentified woman in her early 20s.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton contributed to this report.