Chester Dewayne Turner was convicted Monday of murdering 11 people in a decade-long killing rampage, joining the annals of Los Angeles crime as one of the city’s most prolific serial murderers.
A former pizza deliveryman and crack cocaine dealer, Turner, 40, was convicted of raping and strangling 10 South Los Angeles women and killing a 6 1/2 -month old fetus, who a physician testified was viable at the time of his mother’s murder. Turner’s killings began in 1987 and stretched to 1998.
Jurors are scheduled to return Wednesday to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders’ downtown courtroom to consider the only two options for punishment under California law: life in prison without parole or death.
“The only true justice would be for me to have my daughter back,” said Jerri Tripplett, who shuddered as the name of her daughter Andrea was read Monday as part of the official verdict.
As far back as 1992, detectives had suspected a serial killer was stalking women in South Los Angeles. But the disappearance of African American women, many of them prostitutes and homeless, did not raise the same alarms as Richard Ramirez’s deadly intrusions into Southland homes as the Night Stalker in the mid-1980s or the sudden appearance of bodies dumped by Angelo Buono Jr. and Kenneth Bianchi in the Hillside Strangler murders of the 1970s.
After three partially clad African American women in as many months were found near Charles W. Barrett Elementary School at 98th Street, detectives decided to canvass for reports of recent sexual crimes.
That’s when they found David Allen Jones, a part-time janitor described by a psychiatrist of having the mental capacity of an 8-year-old. Jones was in jail, charged with the attempted rape of a prostitute near the school.
After repeatedly denying that he killed the three women, Jones, under detectives’ prodding, admitted to having sex and smoking crack cocaine with them. And despite the absence of physical evidence or witnesses to back up the confession, Jones was convicted in 1995 of three murders and sentenced in 36 years to life in state prison.
In 2001, Los Angeles Police Det. Cliff Shepard decided to use his new position with a special cold-case unit to revisit a murder that had haunted him for several years.
Paula Vance, 41, had been raped and strangled in February 1998, her partially clothed body dumped behind a downtown business. Security cameras had captured parts of the crime, but the image was distant and grainy and the attacker couldn’t be identified.
Shepard and his partner at the time of the killing, Jay Moberly, had the security camera image enlarged and even tried to enlist Paramount Studios to help decipher who was on the screen. They scoured the streets for registered sex offenders, distributed fliers and sent teletype alerts describing the crime to all LAPD divisions. But the murder remained unsolved.
Now, with his new assignment, Shepard had another chance at the confounding case -- and a new technology to exploit. He sent semen recovered from Vance’s body to the LAPD crime lab for DNA testing.
California voters had authorized creating a database of DNA samples collected from convicted felons. In 2003, the Vance test hit a match: Turner, who was then in prison on a 2002 rape conviction.
The detectives used a computer database to review 50 to 60 murders with a similar location and motive to crimes that were linked to Turner. The program flagged killings for which Jones was in prison.
Shepard was struck by something: Jones’ blood type did not match any of the bodily fluids from the murder cases linked to him. But Turner’s type did.
The detectives ordered further DNA tests that eventually exonerated Jones, who was quietly released from prison. He later received $720,000 from the city. Jones could not be reached for comment on Turner’s conviction.
During the trial, Turner did not testify. Much of the court time was taken up with DNA testimony.
The evidence showed that all the victims were strangled, eight of them by bare hands and two with ligatures. One woman’s neck was broken by the force of the attack. On one occasion, testimony suggested that Turner continued his furious sexual assault even after he had garroted his victim.
The women’s bodies were discarded casually in filthy alleys and lots, mainly along the Figueroa corridor in South Los Angeles. They were left mostly face-down, pants pulled down around the ankles.
Four of the killings were within six blocks of where Turner was living in South Los Angeles. After Turner moved downtown, the last two victims died on skid row.
Prosecutors showed jurors the grainy surveillance video, which depicted a man walking Vance into an alley. He threw her to the ground and raped her for 18 minutes. Midway through the attack, she extended her right arm outward, where it remained motionless for the duration. Vance was found in the same position the next morning.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace called Turner a savage predator fixated on “violence, dominance and control.”
The defense argued that someone else could have committed the murders, pointing to DNA recovered from the bodies that was not accounted for. Lawyers explained the presence of Turner’s DNA by saying the victims were prostitutes, and they paid in trade for the crack cocaine he sold them. Grace called the defense theory “lunacy.” Deputy Dist. Atty. Truc Do put the probability of anyone else killing all the victims Turner had sex with at one in a quintillion -- “one followed by 18 zeros.”
Do offered a chilling description of Turner’s world: “Women are objects who are brutalized and dehumanized. Here, life has no meaning; life is thrown away like trash. People are left in dirty places.
“Life itself is degraded. Humanity does not exist.”
Jurors returned their first two verdicts last Wednesday afternoon, less than a day after they began.
Then on Monday, after less than two full days of deliberation, jurors finished their work on all remaining counts.
“The jury has reached an accurate and appropriate verdict during the guilty phase. We will await the jury’s verdict after the penalty phase,” said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
Defense attorney John Tyre declined to comment, as did Anthony Robusto, who will take on the main job of trying to persuade jurors to spare Turner’s life.
The victims, in the order they died, were: Diane Johnson, 21; Annette Ernest, 26; Anita Fishman, 31; Regina Washington, 27, and her fetus; Andrea Tripplett, 29; Desarae Jones, 29; Natalie Price, 31; Mildred Beasley, 45; Paula Vance, 38; and Brenda Bries, 37.