A felon who was linked through DNA evidence to the 2004 rape and murder of a woman in South Los Angeles after being arrested for the hit-and-run death of a woman in Orange County is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday morning.
Jaqwun Laerin Turner, 34, of Hawthorne, is charged with one count each of murder and rape in the death of Leah Deshay Benjamin, whose body was discovered wrapped in a blanket in an alley in the 10600 block of South Manhattan Place on April 10, 2004.
The murder charge includes an allegation that the 38-year-old woman — who died from blunt force head trauma — was murdered during the commission of a rape. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Turner.
A background check of Turner revealed that he had lived in “close proximity” to the area where Benjamin’s body was discovered, authorities said.
Los Angeles Police were notified that the California Department of Justice had gotten a match between Turner’s DNA profile and the DNA profile obtained from crime scene evidence. Turner’s DNA was collected after his arrest by Santa Ana Police on Jan. 29, 2014, in connection with the death of Martha Rodenza, 51, of Los Angeles.
Rodenza had gotten into a dispute at a family party in Mission Viejo and ended up getting into a petroleum tanker truck driven by Turner after asking for rides at a gas station near Avery Parkway and the Santa Ana (5) Freeway while he was working as a fuel delivery driver, authorities said.
Rodenza’s body was found on the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway at the westbound Garden Grove (22) Freeway after she fell from the truck just before 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 8, 2013.
Turner pleaded guilty in August 2014 to a felony hit-and-run charge and was sentenced to a year in county jail and five years probation.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Cornwell objected to the plea deal, saying later that Turner should have spent time in prison for leaving Rodenza to die alone in the road and failing to contact police.
Defense attorney Errol Cook said last year that Turner had reluctantly agreed to give Rodenza a ride, and that his client was “shocked, fearful and pretty much panicked” after she opened the door and stepped out of the truck as he was trying to slow the vehicle.
—City News Service