Defense in Turner murder trial weak at best; jury should get the case tomorrow
SALINE CO.—Seven days into the murder trial convicted drug and sex offender Ricky Turner II, 35, the second day of defense testimony sounded more like it was coming from prosecution witnesses.
All things being equal, attorneys, try as they might, don’t always know what a witness is going to do once up on the stand... and that included the defense’s medical witness and their client.
With that in mind point man for the defense team, Morgan Scroggins, recognized as one of the area’s best defense attorneys, doesn’t seem to have much to work with.
The first witness to take the stand this morning was Jason Vinyard, 38, of Galatia.
Vinyard was the EMT that responded to reports of a toddler having a seizure at the Turner residence on Crossroad School Road in Eldorado the night of June 19, 2009.
Vinyard said when he arrived less than five minutes after receiving the call, he found Jessika James, 4, daughter of Turner's girlfriend Brandi James, on the living room floor lying on her back with her fists clenched and arms drawn up.
“One of the first things I noticed was that she was soaking wet, like with sweat,” Vinyard said.
Vinyard said he checked Jessika over while his partner was getting the stretcher out of the back of the ambulance.
“Her eyes were rolled up into her head and I saw bruising on her forehead,” Vinyard said. “She seemed to be seizing at the time.”
Once he saw how critical the tot was, Vinyard checked for neck and spinal injury and scooped her up and carried her out to the waiting ambulance.
When asked on cross examination by assistant state’s attorney Eva Walker what Ricky Turner was doing the entire time, Vinyard said he was pacing from Jessika to the door of the residence.
“And when he was down on the floor talking to he kept looking over his shoulder like he was looking for somebody,” Vinyard said.
Vinyard said on the way to the hospital in the ambulance the toddler was so drawn up that he was unable to get vital signs.
He testified later that night at the hospital that Turner told him Jessika had fallen off a four-wheeler several days before but she "acted normal" following the accident.
“He told me that she had fallen off the back of a four-wheeler and hit her head,” Vinyard said. “I was also told that she had been sleep walking a lot and that she fell a lot.”
Vinyard said that Turner and Jessika’s mother Brandi James had told him that Jessika had suffered a couple of seizures over the past few months but that when they took her to the doctor nothing was found.
“And in your opinion, how did Mr. Turner act?” Walker asked.
“He seemed rather calm given the situation,” Vinyard said. “He didn’t act very concerned.”
By contrast, when asked by Walker, Vinyard said Brandi James was hysterical when she arrived three minutes after Turner had called her.
Testimony indicates and Turner himself testified that when he “found” Jessika he didn’t call 911 but called Brandi James and waited until she arrived and she called 911.
Turner reportedly told at least one person he had even called his mother after calling Brandi, but not 911.
Vinyard went into detail when asked about the difference between a seizure and "posturing."
“Posturing is when a person basically draws up and it is not a seizure,” he said. “With a seizure you have more movement although rapid and limited. Posturing is fairly motionless.
“I called it a seizure in my initial report because that is what the call was for.”
“With that said, how would you describe Jessika’s condition?” Walker asked.
“It was posturing,” he said.
“And the soaking, was that like sweat or more like water?”
“Water,” Vinyard said describing how Jessika was drenched from head to toe including the onesie she was wearing.
From bad to worse
WADI worker Marnia Hunt testified that she spent an hour and half with the toddler about a month before the little girl died, this during a home visit for a client at which Jessika happened to be present, and at first thought she was a cancer patient.
“She had dark bags under her eyes, her hair was falling out, she had spots on her arms and she acted so frail,” Hunt said. “She was smiling but didn’t look like she felt good.”
Next up in the defense's limited arsenal was admitted family friend Jessica Hardin from Eldorado, who testified that she has known Turner for 15 years “or so.”
She said she met his two children Ricky Turner, III, and Tanea when she had to travel to Hammond, Indiana (presumably) to pick them up at a shopping mall where their mother Teresa Coleman had left them, thus shooting Ms. Coleman’s shot at mother of the year to hell, not to mention her testimony.
Tanea damaged her own testimony with sudden amnesia about what she told state police investigators which left little Richard III’s testimony.
Little Richard said he wasn’t home the night Jessika sustained her fatal injury; but Ms. Hardin said after she "gave little Richard a ride home the sun was up and it was down by the time she left"... and Richard III was there the entire time.
Moreover, she said she didn’t think he went anywhere that night because he was very active in school events and had asked her for a ride the next morning to attend one, leaving the impression that Richard being well rested as valuable for the school event.
Jessika’s fatal injury occurred around at about 10:30 p.m. and both little and big Richard said the younger was not at home, despite his school event the next morning.
There was never any testimony of where little Richard was or when he returned from wherever he had gone.
Mrs. Hardin also testified that she had never witnessed Ricky Turner, Jr., ever raise his voice or hands to anybody in anger.
Radiologist confirms prosecutions case
After a long lunch break (because the defense had no witnesses ready to take the stand), court resumed with Judge Walden Morris asking Scroggins if he were ready to proceed.
“Yes, your honor,” he began. “We had served a subpoena on the Illinois State Police for the testimony of Crime Scene Investigator Danny Glover and we have been informed that Trooper Glover is in training all week.”
After an awkward bit of silence Scroggins called the defense's only medical witness to the stand and by the time the questioning of that witness was said and done, he too sounded like a witness for the prosecution.
Dr. Hisham Youssef is a radiologist for four hospitals and testified that he has viewed tens of thousands of CT scans.
Scroggins, in his defense, has hammered the point that initially Dr. Youssef said it was a fresh bleed (acute) on top of an old bleed (chronic) while every other doctor in the case said it was only a fresh bleed.
After talking at length about how he believed what he was looking at in the CT scan of Jessika’s head was a fresh bleed on top of an old bleed, Youssef was asked by Walker, “Would the pathologist who did the autopsy have a better understanding of whether or not it was acute on chronic, or just acute?”
“Yes,” he said, which left many wondering why the defense put him on the stand only to end up proving the prosecution's point.
And finally, after some consultation with his attorney, accused murderer Ricky Turner, II, took the stand in his own defense...such as it was.
As painfully as watching grass grow, Scroggins took Turner back to the days prior to Jessika’s fatal injury.
Scroggins had his client talk at length about how he cared for his children and cared for Jessika.
Turner talked about how he had purchased the toddler a bed after she had been sleeping on the living room couch for months.
He talked about how he had purchased her My Little Ponies.
At one point Walker objected to Turner’s soliloquy about his other children, wondering what it had to do with the dead toddler the jury was there to hear about.
On cross examination, the defense’s best witness thus far, soured quickly.
Walker tore into the convicted child molester with venom.
“You have all kinds of positive things about your son and how Jessika was a sad little girl and all the problems she had but you haven’t said one nice thing about her,” Walker said. “Why is that Mr. Turner?”
Turner visibly sat up straighter on the witness stand.
“That’s because you don’t have anything nice to say do you?... Do you?” she hammered. “You don’t, do you, Mr. Turner?”
“I liked her,” Turner stammered.
“You did?!” Walker responded. "Well then, tell us about that, if you please.”
“Tell us about how you liked Jessika.”
“Well, I liked her. She was nice.”
“Nice. While the rest of the family slept in beds in rooms of their own, Jessika slept on the couch in the living room,” Walker spat. “‘Nice.’ You said she was sad, Mr. Turner.”
“And you never knew of her being any other way?”
“No, she was quiet and sad and didn’t talk or play much the entire time I knew her,” Turner said.
“Only after she met you, Mr. Turner,” Walker fumed. “Only after she met you. Before she met you she was happy and laughed and played and was alive!”
Turner looked on the verge of losing the bad temper some have noted in the past.
“You didn’t like her, did you?”
“Is that why in a recording of a phone call while you were in jail you said, ‘It’s not like I didn’t fucking do it!’ and then you called her ‘that fucking kid!’”
It took a second but Turner came up with some convoluted story about how he didn’t mean exactly what he had said and that Walker was taking it out of context.
“And the bald patch on the top of her head was caused by you, wasn’t it!” Walker asked.
“And isn’t it true you made her eat her own poop after soiling herself?”
“And isn’t it true that you had her in the bath tub and that’s why she was soaking wet?”
“Do you think that the one ice cube you put on her to cool her off was enough to soak her and her clothes?”
“Then how did she get soaked, clothes and all from head to toe?”
“I don’t know.”
“And you were the last one to see her alive and healthy, correct?”
Henshaw finds the ‘everybody else is lying but me’ angle
At one point Walker pitched the prosecution cross examination to Henshaw who asked Turner repeatedly if he remembered telling authorities and family members numerous versions of what happened that night.
He asked Turner if he remembered telling that it was a four-wheeler accident at Jessika’s biological father’s house that injured the girl and that the biological father was going to be in serious trouble.
Turner said “No.”
“You don’t remember telling your own son three different stories?”
“And you don’t remember telling the EMT about a four-wheeler accident at Jessika’s father’s house?”
“No, that didn’t happen.”
“And you didn’t tell Illinois State Police Investigator Gwen Basinger that no one could have gotten inside the home to injure the child?”
“No, that didn’t happen.”
“And you never told Steven Hayes that you found Jessika standing in the corner in a catatonic state?”
“And you didn’t tell anyone you found her half in and half out of a toy box?”
“And you didn’t tell anyone you heard a loud thump and ‘you’ called 911?”
“You didn’t tell your son that?”
The point Henshaw was making---and it is one of his favorites during jury trials---is that everybody else must be lying except the accused.
Turner claims he merely found the toddler suffering from injuries medical experts say cannot be self-inflicted and because of the force needed to cause such traumatic injuries are only seen in car crashes and falls from at least two stories up.
Leaves hospital as life support terminated
At one point Turner testified that the day little four-year-old Jessika James was taken taken off life support, he and her mother Brandi left.
“You left before life support was disconnected?”
“Because Brandi didn’t want to be there when they disconnected everything.”
Turner left the court with the impression that little Jessika died alone with no family by her side.
Disclosure has found out that that was not exactly the case.
Sources have revealed that Jessika’s paternal grandmother Jo Nipper, who tried numerous times to intervene on the child’s behalf, stayed in the room with the toddler and holding her hand as medical staff took the tiny child off life support.
“She stayed with her,” the source said, not wanting to get caught up in the emotionally-charged case. “She stayed with that little baby and held her hand and kept holding her hand until she passed.”
The defense is expected to rest its case in chief tomorrow with closing arguments thereafter and the case going to the jury to begin deliberations by noon.
Court is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning, March 22, 2013, at 9 a.m.
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