The judge who sentenced Keith Harold Turner to six years in prison on Jan. 23 for killing his wife and burying her in the backyard of his Ramona house says he may be paroled within four years.
Seven jurors sent letters to the judge urging leniency, with some saying the case has changed their lives for the better. The judge read several portions of letters in court in which two jurors said they will cherish their families more and not be so judgmental toward others in the future.
Those seven jurors attended the sentencing, as did Turner’s two daughters, and other friends and family members. All seats were filled when El Cajon Superior Court Judge William McGrath denied probation for Turner, 57, who was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter on Dec. 3. The 10-woman, two-man jury acquitted Turner of first and second-degree murder in the 2005 death of Toby Turner, 42.
Turner’s attorney, Tom Warwick, made a pitch for probation, saying his client had no prior record, and he cited the letters jurors sent to the judge.
“I’ve never seen such an outpouring (of sympathy) from members of the jury in my 36 years of law,” said Warwick. “They don’t want Mr. Turner sentenced to prison.”
Warwick cited the methamphetamine use of the victim, which witnesses testified about in Turner’s murder trial in November. Toby Turner had set a couch on fire a few days before her death, and she also suffered from mental illness, said Warwick.
“She essentially drove every person away from her,” said Warwick, who said his client tried for years “to get Toby away from drugs.”
Warwick described Keith Turner as having “a passive dependent personality disorder” and who put up with years of abuse from his wife. He said Toby Turner insisted her husband sleep on the couch or floor because she thought he was dirty.
“He loved her throughout the whole thing,” said Warwick. “He never struck her. He was never mean to her.”
Warwick mentioned the Jan. 11 death of Sean Turner, 25, the stepson of the defendant who testified against him. Sean Turner had diabetes and other ailments.
“There has been an awful lot of tragedy in this case,” said Warwick, adding that his client should be freed from jail on probation conditions so he can “try to rebuild his life and take care of his mother.”
“More punishment isn’t going to make any difference,” said Warwick.
McGrath read portions of two jurors’ letters. One wrote that initially she thought the case was first-degree murder until she learned more about it from testimony in the monthlong trial.
“One of the first things I’ve learned is not to be so judgmental,” wrote one juror. “I hope I’m a much more open-minded person.”
Another juror wrote “this is a trial that I will never forget.” She added: “I will be more compassionate towards families with drug (problems).” The juror also said the experience caused her to cherish her husband and children more.
Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals urged an 11-year term for Turner, saying “we can’t forget the reason we’re here—Toby isn’t living.”
“We only get one shot at living. Her life wasn’t ended by an accident ... It ended because one human being ended her life,” said Mechals. “Our society values life. Toby Turner wasn’t afforded that opportunity. She hit rock bottom. She’d been in rehab, but didn’t stick with it.
“This is a decision the defendant made, to kill. To strangle someone manually, it takes at least 60 seconds. This is a prison case ... based on the method of killing.”
Warwick noted there was never an official cause of death cited.
Her skeletal remains were unearthed on Nov. 9, 2007, behind the Oak Springs Drive house in Ramona, but an autopsy was inconclusive.
The judge agreed, but added that Keith Turner admitted to sheriff’s deputies he strangled her.
“We don’t know the exact means of her death,” said McGrath, adding it was “not accidental.”
McGrath also said that, if Toby Turner’s mental illness had been treated successfully, “we wouldn’t be here.” He added that she was taken to a mental hospital twice, but was released days later.
McGrath agreed with the defense that Turner “is not a danger to society.” But he added that “deterring others” from similar conduct is important.
The judge said committing the strangulation was “a high degree of cruelty,” and it was aggravated by Turner’s inducement to his stepson to help bury the body. Sean Turner testified he refused to help his stepfather, but he did not report the crime until 2007 because he had a criminal record and did not think sheriff’s deputies would believe his story.
McGrath gave Turner credit for 508 days spent in jail including time off for good behavior. He told the audience that Turner would be paroled in about four years. Turner used to work for Pacific Bell.
The judge ordered Turner to pay $6,660 to the crime victim’s compensation fund, and fined him $2,200. Turner, who did not say anything in court, waved goodbye to people in the audience as deputies took him away.