Five years have passed since an East Baton Rouge Parish jury reached a death verdict for a convicted killer, but on Friday, after less than two hours of deliberations, jurors said Lee Turner Jr. should die by lethal injection for killings the parish’s chief prosecutor described as “a punch in the gut to the city of Baton Rouge.”
Turner, 25, formerly of New Orleans, was found guilty earlier in the week of fatally shooting two CarQuest Auto Parts employees — Edward “Eddie” Gurtner III, 43, and Randy Chaney, 55 — during a robbery at the store on Airline Highway near Siegen Lane on the afternoon of March 27, 2011.
Gurtner’s wife, Elizabeth Gurtner, said she has been waiting for more than four years to exhale since that horrible day.
“I just took a breath. I’ve been holding it for a long time,” she said of her reaction to the unanimous penalty verdict handed down by the 10 women and two men who had been sequestered since April 30.
The Gurtner and Chaney families will have to wait a bit longer for Turner to be formally sentenced to death. State District Judge Richard Anderson is scheduled to impose the penalty Aug. 10.
Turner was 21 at the time of the slayings and living with an uncle in Baton Rouge. He began working for CarQuest just 11 days before the killings.
Scott Collier, one of Turner’s court-appointed attorneys, begged jurors for mercy Friday and asked them to send Turner to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the remainder of his life.
But East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Tracey Barbera argued Turner showed no mercy to Gurtner, who was shot 12 times, and Chaney, who was shot once in the back of the head.
“Does this look like mercy and compassion?” she asked, holding up crime scene photos of the two men’s bodies in the warehouse of the auto parts store. “No mercy or compassion came out of that man. He offered no mercy. He should receive no mercy.”
Turner will be on death row at Angola until he is executed. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III told reporters that death-penalty appeals have an average duration of 20 years.
Moore said Turner is deserving of a death sentence.
“This was an egregious murder, just a cold-blooded senseless murder,” he said, adding that it delivered a “punch in the gut” to the city.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s last death-penalty verdict came in March 2010 in the case of Dacarius Holliday, who was convicted of beating his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son to death in 2007.
Collier acknowledged there are no excuses for what Turner did that tragic day at CarQuest but asked the jury to consider his turbulent childhood and upbringing.
“Do you need to kill Lee Turner? Is there any other way? Is Lee Turner beyond redemption? Is he the worst of the worst?” Collier asked.
Barbera said Turner made a deliberate and planned decision to rob the store and kill all witnesses to his crime, adding that the unimaginable pain inflicted on the victims’ families will never go away.
“The murderer, you can make the murderer go away for the choices the murderer made — choices,” she said.
Gurtner, of Denham Springs, was not scheduled to work the Sunday he was killed but went in to catch up on restocking and to hang a mirror in the store’s bathroom.
Elizabeth Gurtner testified during the trial that the last photo she has of her husband is a cellphone selfie he took at the store after installing the mirror.
Chaney, of Greenwell Springs, was the assistant manager of the CarQuest on Staring Lane but was helping out at the Airline store that ill-fated day.
Turner, a high school graduate with no previous arrests, confessed on March 28, 2011, at the end of an 11-hour interrogation after sheriff’s detectives found bank bags and CarQuest deposit slips in a garbage can outside the Ritterman Avenue home where he stayed with an uncle, and after the murder weapon — a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol — was discovered behind the store along a canal by a District Attorney’s Office investigator.
Turner initially denied any involvement in the killings, then blamed it on a co-worker before eventually saying he shot the two men — Chaney first and then Gurtner as he ran for his life. Before that, Turner said he forced Gurtner to open the store safe. Gurtner died with the store’s keys in his hand, including a key to the safe.
“They stuck to it,” Chaney’s widow, Lola Chaney, said of the various local and state law enforcement agencies that investigated the case. “They handled it excellently. They didn’t make any mistakes.”
Chaney also thanked the Baton Rouge community for its support over the past four-plus years. She said the Chaney and Gurtner families have bonded through the tragedy and will remain close.
“Our faith is what got us through,” said Elizabeth Gurtner, whose father passed away Wednesday night. “It’s all faith.”
It was Gurtner and her youngest son, who was 13 at the time, who discovered Eddie Gurtner’s body.
“Hopefully he can start to heal,” she said of Raymond “Jamie” Gurtner.
Gurtner and Chaney were both fathers.
Turner’s then-girlfriend was pregnant at the time of the murders. His son will turn 4 next week.