The California Supreme Court Monday upheld the death sentence of a man convicted of murdering 10 women in Los Angeles over an 11-year period, but overturned his conviction for the death of the unborn baby of one of the victims.
In a 59-page ruling, the state’s highest court wrote that Chester Dewayne Turner is a “convicted serial killer who preyed on vulnerable women for over a decade.”
“A jury convicted him of strangling his victims and abandoning their corpses in degrading conditions,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the panel. “Apart from the fetal death, the jury found that defendant murdered 10 women.”
The panel noted that jurors heard from a deputy medical examiner who did not perform the autopsy and recounted “case-specific facts from the (autopsy) report and invited the jury to compare that hearsay to the medically accepted guidelines for determining viability” of Regina Washington’s unborn baby, requiring the reversal of his second-degree murder conviction for the fetus’ death. But the justices rejected the defense’s argument that the error undermined his death sentence.
He was convicted in April 2007 of 10 counts of first-degree murder, along with the second-degree murder charge involving Washington’s 27- to 28-week-old fetus.
Turner — described at the time by prosecutors as the city’s most prolific serial killer — was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death in 2014 for four other killings. His automatic appeal for those killings is being handled separately and is still pending.
The Arkansas native, who once worked as a pizza deliveryman, is now 54 and has been on death row at San Quentin State Prison for more than 13 years.
At Turner’s July 2007 sentencing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders said there was “overwhelming evidence” that the defendant methodically located lone women and “strangled each to death for his own sexual pleasure.”
The judge said the “circumstances of the up-close and very personal nature of the strangulation” of each of the victims “revealed a cruelty rarely seen in murder trials.”
“This was not a difficult matter to try. The evidence basically was DNA,” Pounders said.
Turner was initially convicted of murdering:
— Diane Johnson, 21, who was found dead in March 1987;
— Annette Ernest, 26, who was killed in October 1987;
— Anita Fishman, 31, who was murdered in January 1989;
— Washington, 27, who was visibly pregnant when she was slain in September 1989;
— Desarae Jones, 29, who was killed in May 1993;
— Andrea Tripplett, 29, who was strangled April 2, 1993, in South Los Angeles;
— Natalie Price, 31, whose body was found outside a home on Feb. 12, 1995;
— Mildred Beasley, 45, whose body was found in a field on Nov. 6, 1996;
— Paula Vance, 38, who was strangled on Feb. 3, 1998, during the commission of a rape, which was caught on grainy black-and-white surveillance videotape in which the assailant’s face cannot be seen; and
— Brenda Bries, 37, who was found dead in the Skid Row area on April 6, 1998.
Turner lived within 30 blocks of each of the killings — with Bries’ body discovered in downtown Los Angeles just 50 yards from where he was living at the time.
He was linked to the strangulations through DNA test results after being arrested and convicted of raping a woman on Skid Row in 2002.
He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death in 2014 for the killings of 33-year-old Elandra Bunn in the Figueroa Corridor area of Los Angeles in June 1987; 28-year-old Deborah Williams, who was found dead in November 1992 at the bottom of a stairwell leading to a boiler room at 97th Street School; 42-year-old Mary Edwards, whose body was found in a carport in December 1992; and the February 1997 killing of 30-year-old Cynthia Annette Johnson in Watts.
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