Experts say evidence points to homicide, not suicide, in woman's 2000 death

Elmore City, OK, couple Joe and Donna Turner say their daughter, Chanda, who died in 2000, would not have taken her own life.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: December 5, 2012
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In 2009, a new district attorney, Greg Mashburn, agreed to allow Turner's body to be exhumed and autopsied.

Dr. Collie Trant with the medical examiner's office did the work under the observance of Dr. Robert Bux, medical examiner and coroner for El Paso County in Colorado. Both men are convinced Chanda Turner's death was a homicide.

Trant and Bux said the 2002 investigation indicated the scene was cleaned up before law officers arrived. Statements made by witnesses since have validated many of the suspicions, and the position of the body and gunshot wound are not consistent with suicide, they said.

“The bottom line is, if you look at the evidence, this is so obviously not a suicide and so obviously fishy,” Trant said.

But Trant was fired from his job before amending the death certificate, and the manner of death remained on record as suicide.

A grand jury convened by Mashburn to review that case and two other suspicious deaths in Garvin County declined to take it up.

Mashburn said the grand jury did recommend the local sheriff and police departments include Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in similar cases in the future, a measure by which most departments now comply.

“That's what you see now in McClain and Garvin counties, but Garvin County in particular — to call outside agencies to remove this stigma,” Mashburn said. “I think law enforcement has gotten better, but I also think them teaming up with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has really gone a long way to help some of those situations that previously happened not to happen again.”

The Turners had more success lobbying the state to reform the medical examiner's office. Last year, the state Legislature passed a law that allows families to appeal medical examiner findings.

It was a settlement in the Turners' appeal of the suicide ruling that led to the amendment of her death certificate from suicide to manner undetermined and, ultimately, allowed the new county sheriff to reopen the investigation.

Amy Elliott, spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said the decision to amend the death certificate was made after speaking with people involved with the case and “based on a variety of both old and new information provided.”

She said this is not the first time the office has changed a cause and/or manner of death on a death certificate.

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