Turner found guilty of a lesser charge

A jury on Dec. 3 convicted Keith Harold Turner of voluntary manslaughter in the death of his wife, Toby Turner, whom he buried in his backyard in 2005.

The jury acquitted him of first and second-degree murder following 18 hours of deliberations over four days.

Turner, 57, of Ramona, faces a maximum sentence of 11 years in state prison for manslaughter, said Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals, who had asked the 10-woman, two-man jury for a murder conviction.

Sentencing was set for Jan. 23 by El Cajon Superior Court Judge William McGrath, who can place him on probation, but that is not likely.

Turner did not testify during his month-long trial.

Turner was convicted of strangling Toby Turner, 42, whom he buried in the backyard of his house at 16114 Oak Springs Drive in San Diego Country Estates in Ramona. Turner told his daughters and others his wife had left him and he later filed a missing person’s report with sheriff’s deputies.   

His attorney, Tom Warwick, presented a defense that depicted Toby Turner as mentally ill, using methamphetamine, and living with another man during her marriage to Turner. She had set a couch on fire the day before her death, and Warwick argued she was not rational when she faced her husband in the garage for the last time.

“We didn’t think he had any intent or malice or planned it beforehand,” said one juror to reporters afterwards. “We felt he had finally taken this for so long that he just snapped.”

“We felt that Mr. Turner was a victim in this case as well, and we did ultimately come to agreement that eventually he did get to a point where he was provoked and he was pushed to a point where he finally snapped,” said another juror.

“Even watching the defendant in the courtroom, he was very emotional, too, especially when a member of his family or his friends got on the stand,” a juror added.

The jury began deliberations on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but recessed for the holiday. The following Monday, one juror was excused and an alternate juror replaced her, but that meant the jury had to begin deliberations from the start as per instructions from the judge.

Jurors asked to see the videotape of Turner as he talked about the slaying with sheriff’s deputies. Turner said his wife was yelling at him and she tripped and fell. He then choked her.

His stepson, Sean Turner, testified he peeked into the garage and saw his stepfather’s foot on the neck of his mother, who was apparently dead.

Sean Turner, now 25, testified he didn’t report the crime because he was on probation for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of a teen-age girl in his car and didn’t think he would be believed. Sean Turner also acknowledged using methamphetamine, a drug his mother started to use.

Sean Turner left town and, when he returned to Ramona in 2007, he located his biological father, John Bonveno, whom his mother had a relationship with while she was married to Keith Turner. Bonveno also testified and said Keith Turner once told him his wife had died, but he quickly corrected himself and said she had left him.

Warwick criticized the testimony of Sean Turner and urged jurors not to believe him. Several jurors said they discounted some of what he said.

Said Warwick: “Obviously we would have liked to have seen it be a full acquittal, but the jury did what they felt was right, and I looked into each of their eyes, and I think you got an honest, fair, and well thought out verdict. That’s what the system of justice is like in our country.

“When you get jurors go through that full range of emotion, you really have to respect the system. And frankly, jurors get it right.”

Said Mechals, the prosecutor: “I feel the case needed to be tried (before a jury). It was. We needed the community to apply their life experiences and make the call.”

Keith Turner remains in the downtown central jail on $2 million bail.

   
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