Devil in the details in Turner murder trial
SALINE CO.—The prosecution rested its case today (03.20.13) six days into the murder trial of 35-year-old Ricky Turner for the death of 4-year-old Jessika James.
The prosecution team of State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw and Assistant State’s Attorney Eva Walker capped off their case today with probably one of the most well-spoken, well educated and tenacious medical expert witnesses Disclosure has seen in its decade of publication.
Dr. Mary Case took the stand first thing this morning (Wednesday) and unlike the usual forensic pathologists seen testifying in courtrooms in southern Illinois, she did not have an air of peculiarity about her.
Dr. Case is a teaching professor of pathology, the chief medical examiner for at least four Missouri counties, is an expert in head injury, an expert in brain and spinal cord pathology, has performed more than 11,000 autopsies and is qualified as an expert in more than half of the states within the continental United States.
Once her qualifications were out of the way (and incidentally, the defense didn’t dare question them, mainly because Dr. Case has testified for the defense in other cases), she testified that the cause of little Jessika’s death was found to be closed head trauma with the manner of death found to be homicide.
Dr. Case described the condition of the little body when it arrived for autopsy.
“Jessika was a 4-year-old who appeared to be of normal size and the only clothes she had on her was a disposable diaper,” Case said as the jury became noticeably still. “There were numerous tubes and medical lines (IV lines and the like) attached to her in order for us to know that apparent injuries were caused by the treatment she received by medical staff.”
Case said there were a number of trauma findings on the toddler’s body.
She referenced the bruising on the lower aspect of the torso, on the left buttock, left arm and left leg and a fracture of her L3 vertebra.
While the list of injuries are those listed by Dr. Quayle from the previous day’s testimony, Dr. Case added that the fracture in the vertebra was not a recent event.
“It was not fresh,” she said.
Case concurred with Dr. Quayle that the lack of any explanation on the bruising of the lower torso and buttock was not within the norm.
“Small children don’t generally bruise in those areas and if they do somebody knows about it,” Case said. “Nobody offered any explanation whatsoever to any of the individuals who interviewed them that would account for the bruising, which leads me to believe they were inflicted, not the result of an accident.”
Case said the bruising on the arm and leg were less suspect because those are common areas for young children to bruise.
“The fractured vertebra is considered a significant injury that someone should know about and be able to explain how it happened when asked about past injuries and medical history. No explanations were given,” Case said. “I have only seen injuries like that in vehicle accidents. That injury would have been extremely painful.”
And yet, by all accounts even after the fracture was discovered, nobody offered any explanation of how the fracture occurred.
In very understandable terms, Dr. Case explained how a child’s head and brain differ from an adult's.
“And thus injuries are different in a child compared to an adult,” Case said. “A child’s head is 30 percent of their body weight, where in an adult it is more like 2-3 percent.
“A child has a very weak neck compared to an adult because their neck muscles haven’t completely formed and their facial structure is not set as it would be once they get a full mouth of teeth.
“A child’s brain is softer and more fluid than an adult’s and therefore easier to damage.”
Dr. Case cleared up the mystery behind why one CT scan was said to show a new bleed on top of an old bleed in Jessika’s head and another saying it was only a new bleed.
This is a point defense attorney Morgan Scroggins has focused on.
“In a CT scan, if there is as much bleeding as was found in Jessika during the autopsy, it can look darker as the blood settles, giving the appearance in the scan of an old bleed,” Dr. Case said. “So in this case it doesn’t really matter which or if a CT scan was right or wrong, because there was death and in the autopsy only fresh blood was found. There is no question of that.”
The defense has also hit on a fall Jessika supposedly had on her way down a hallway in the middle of the night on her way to the bathroom.
“This isn’t an injury someone can give themselves,” Case said, “and it isn’t an injury one gets from falling.”
Case described how the force needed to create the amount of damage Jessika suffered would have only been achieved if the head was moved or impacted so fast the brain, “a gelatinous mass” couldn’t keep up with the shift and subsequently literally tore from its moorings inside the skull, creating the bleed.
“It is like shoving a glass of water with the brain being the water and the glass being the head. The water sloshes from one side of the glass to the other,” Case said. “When Jessika received this injury, her brain was damaged to the point her breathing was compromised and if she were breathing at all could very well have only been gasps.”
Case said if Jessika would have survived the force needed to sustain such an injury, in addition to brain damage, she would have most likely been blind.
Jurors were obviously shocked when the first, very difficult to look at, photograph of Jessika on the autopsy table was placed on an easel showing her unclothed little body laying on its side, with a half-shaved head from surgery, in almost a fetal position.
To their credit neither the prosecution nor the defense overused the photographs during their questions, one showing the surgical incision running the length of Jessika’s head as surgeons attempted to relieve the pressure on her swelling brain and another showing her scalp peeled back in order to examine the brain bleed.
Many were seen wiping tears away as the attorneys referenced the photographs in presenting their arguments.
Case said in her opinion little Jessika James was struck with great force with in the head with an object.
There no doubt it was not an accident.
There was no doubt it was an inflicted injury.
The only unanswered questions Dr. Case said she had in her mind was whether or not Jessika was hit by an object another person wielded or if the object was thrown through the air at her head.
That, and what exactly the object was.
“And would the person who either struck Jessika with the object or threw it at her know it would cause serious and even a life-threatening injury?” Walker asked.
“Yes,” Dr. Case responded.
“And anyone who saw the event take place would know it as well…?”
Defense doesn’t gain traction
On cross examination, Scroggins slogged through much of the same ground he covered with Dr. Quayle the day before.
He spent a lot of time asking about what other doctors and nurses put in their notes.
He asked why one nurse or doctor had not said one thing or found a specific injury while another did.
Dr. Case gave several explanations from the age of the injury, to the fact that while she didn’t have much hair, Jessika did have enough to possibly cover a wound just above her ear.
In the end Dr. Case returned to one truism: It didn’t matter what this doctor found or noted and what that one didn’t as it didn’t matter what one nurse did or didn’t note.
What mattered was what was found during the autopsy, combined with known science, police reports and the lack of any explanation of why little Jessika had injuries consistent with a history of being abuse and ultimately beaten to death.
The story is and always has been that Jessika’s mother Brandi James went to the store and received a call from her drug and child molesting convict boyfriend (Turner) that her daughter suddenly and without explanation was having a seizure.
Becoming literally catty, at one point Scroggins had Dr. Case read one sentence of nearly a dozen from the autopsy report and forced her to stop reading, further leaving the jury with the impression that there was no retinal damage to the toddler.
However, once Walker on re-direct asked her to read the rest of the report it ended up showing there was indeed retinal bleeding.
This kind of cherry-picking from a defense team makes them appear to be afraid to let the jury hear a report in total (or all of the truth) and is oftentimes indicative of a weak case and a defense team grasping at straws.
State rests, defense bemoans lack of expert
Back from lunch break, outside the presence of the jury, Henshaw announced the prosecution rested its case.
Shortly thereafter, which is common, Scroggins asked Judge Walden Morris for a directed verdict of not guilty, claiming the state did not meet its burden of proving Turner killed the little girl “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Judge Morris denied the motion and said with the evidence presented a person could reasonably find Turner guilty.
Scroggins next wanted to present an offer of proof that if they were to get the expert pathologist the defense, wanted he would testify that Dr. Case was wrong and that a closed head injury was in no way shape or form an indication of abuse.
He complained to the judge that the defense didn’t have enough time or money to secure the expert they wanted.
That’s about the time Mike Henshaw chimed in.
“Your honor, they have known since 2012 we were going to use Dr. Case and what she was going to testify to,” Henshaw said. “They paid $3,500 for an expert to look over the case and give an opinion but when he reviewed the case and then asked for more money, well… Now here we are judge.”
Judge Morris said the offer of proof was duly noted and asked both attorneys if they were ready to proceed.
Defense case in chief
The defense case opened with testimony a one-time girlfriend of Turner’s by the name of Teresa M. Coleman, age 39.
Coleman said she met Turner through his sister Monica, who introduced them.
She said she lived with him from 1990 to 1995.
The pair had two children, Ricky Turner III and Tanea Turner.
Coleman testified that she never saw Ricky raise a hand in anger toward anybody including her and the children.
“I was the bad guy,” she said. “I was the one to deal out the butt whoopins.”
She said that in fact Ricky Turner actually told her to back off the kids on more than one occasion.
She also testified that she was not afraid of Ricky.
On cross examination by Walker, Coleman was not too quick to share the reason she and Ricky parted ways.
“At one point you broke up, right?” Walker asked.
“Well… yea,” Coleman said.
“And there must have been a reason for that.”
“Well, what was that reason?”
“I grew up,” Coleman said.
“You grew up?”
“Yea, you know we kind of grew apart.”
“And that’s the only reason?”
“Well, no, there were others,” Coleman said.
“Well… what were those other reasons?” Walker pushed.
“He wouldn’t stop staying out too late,” Coleman said begrudgingly.
Doesn’t remember what she told ISP
Tanea Turner, 20, testified that her father never raised a hand to her in anger.
That statement would later come back around.
She said she lived with her father off and on and lived with him while Jessika and Brandi James were living with him.
“She was like a little sister,” she said. “She’d spend her days watching cartoons like Scooby-Do and sometimes I’d give her a bath and play dress-up.”
Tanea Turner testified she remembered a time when Ricky took her and Jessika shopping for her birthday and Jessika fell in love with a pair of butterfly shoes.
“Did you ever see your father give her a bath?” Scroggins asked.
“Did you ever see him take her into the bathroom?”
She said she mainly cared for Jessika and Brandi would stick her head out of the room she and Ricky shared once in a while.
“And what was a normal day like for Jessika?” Scroggins asked.
“She'd sit on the couch and watch cartoons or be crying for her mom.”
Tanea said she knew so much about Jessika and how she was treated because she hardly ever left the house during that time.
As with herself, she testified that she never saw her father raise his hand or his voice to Jessika.
On cross examination by Walker, Tanea claimed not to remember telling police a different story.
“Do you remember talking to special agent Gwen Basinger at the Guardian Center in 2010?” Walker asked.
“Do you remember telling her you threw a plate at a family member and that Ricky hit you for it?” Walker asked. “Do you remember telling Gwen Basinger that?”
“No,” she said. “I do not.”
And her memory got worse from there.
“Do you remember telling Gwen Basinger that you did not spend much time at your father’s residence during that time?”
“Do you remember telling agent Basinger that Ricky Turner attempted to hit you but hit your arm instead?”
“And isn’t it true that you told her you saw him punch a family member with his fist?”
“No, I do not remember that.”
“Isn’t it true that Ricky Turner has a bad temper?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And you never saw him lose his temper?”
“Like a little sister”
Ricky Turner, III, age 18, took the stand in his father’s defense and parroted sometimes nearly word for word what his older sister had said.
Turner III said he lived with his father during the incident and until he was arrested.
“She was like a little sister,” he said. “Where Jessika would go she would take me. I’d sit and watch cartoons with her. She knew if she ever needed anything I’d be there for her. We were close until the end.”
Turner III went on to say the night Jessika was injured he wasn’t at the house.
He said he never knew his father to raise his hand or voice toward Jessika.
He said Brandi was the one bathing Jessika even though both he and his sister said Brandi hardly ever came out of the bedroom.
Not that it is any scientific indicator and different people handle grief differently, but with that said, none of these people in remembering their relationship with the dead toddler “like a little sister” appeared to get choked up, need to pause in their testimony or come anywhere near shedding a tear.
The defense ran out of witnesses for the day and court was recessed a little after 3 p.m.
Testimony is expected to begin again tomorrow morning (Thursday) at 9 a.m. sharp.
Sources indicate the defense could rest its case tomorrow with closing arguments Friday morning and the case be handed to the jury to begin deliberations around noon.
Check in tomorrow for Facebook updates, a newblast during the lunch break and another when court recesses for the day as well as another post tomorrow night recapping the day’s testimony in detail.
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