ELMORE CITY — Sitting together on the leather sofa in their living room, hands clasped between them, Joe and Donna Turner say their 12-year battle to find out how their daughter died is as much about justice as it is about clearing her name.
Underneath a wooden sign that reads, “All Things Are Possible,” Donna Turner's eyes well up as she remembers the days leading up to the July 12, 2000, death of her daughter Chanda.
The two went shopping the previous Saturday, and the family celebrated a grandmother's birthday on Sunday. Mom and daughter's last conversation before her Wednesday death was about a looming medical appointment.
Donna Turner said her daughter showed no sign she wanted to kill herself and was planning to attend paralegal school in the fall.
“She said, ‘I'll call you tomorrow when I make the appointment,'” Turner remembered. “That was her state of mind just a few hours before her death.”
Cause of death questioned
Chanda's boyfriend told investigators he was sleeping when she shot herself in the chest, and that he discovered her body leaning against the door frame outside.
She had been shot at close range. Gunpowder on her right hand — plus an abrasion on her left, and the position of the wound — all pointed to suicide, according to a report filed by the medical examiner's office.
But the Turners say that decision was made by an inexperienced investigator who gave too much credence to the sheriff's deputies who went to the scene.
Photos taken of the crime scene demonstrate there may have been a violent struggle before the shooting and that Chanda's body may have been moved, said the Turners' attorney, Jaye Mendros.
A crime scene log and witness statements indicate the crime scene was not secure, Mendros said, and that someone may have cleaned up the scene.
“It became very apparent that she had been allowed to die before law enforcement even arrived,” Mendros said.
Because no autopsy was done and the medical examiner's report indicated Chanda died by her own hand, the family had no recourse for demanding further investigation.
The former sheriff, Bob Davis, is now dead, but the district attorney at the time, Tim Kuykendall, works as a private attorney in Norman.
Kuykendall said he thought the Turner case was suspicious, but suspicion was not enough to open a homicide investigation. He hired an investigator in 2002 to review the case but never filed charges.
“I think one of the biggest problems that we were having in terms of prosecuting it at the time was the medical examiner at that point in time would not say it was a homicide,” Kuykendall said Wednesday. “When you take a case to trial and you present it to a jury, and you ask them to find someone guilty and your own star witness says, well, I'm not even sure there's a homicide — you won't win a case like that.”