The 10 women and two men who unanimously found Lee Turner Jr. guilty of first-degree murder after 90 minutes of deliberations Monday will return to court Tuesday to begin hearing evidence intended to help them decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison for killing two fellow CarQuest Auto Parts workers during a 2011 robbery.
“It’s a community decision, a jury decision,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said after Turner was convicted.
Turner’s lead court-appointed attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, said she doesn’t believe the jury will “rush to judgment” in the penalty phase. The defense witnesses in that phase will include family members, teachers, coaches and doctors.
In her closing argument Monday in the guilt phase of the capital murder trial, Lagattuta got an early jump on her penalty phase argument, telling the jury which punishment the 25-year-old Turner should receive.
“He needs to go to Angola for the rest of his life,” Lagattuta said, noting that Turner had no prior criminal history. “This is not a death penalty case. He is not (condemned south Louisiana serial killer) Derrick Todd Lee.”
“He’s not an animal that needs to be put down,” she added.
East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Tracey Barbera was quick to pounce on that statement.
“He sure put down Eddie and Randy,” she said, referring to Edward Gurtner III and Randy Chaney, the CarQuest employees found shot to death March 27, 2011, in the warehouse of the Airline Highway store near Siegen Lane.
Chaney, a 55-year-old assistant manager of the CarQuest on Staring Lane, was shot once in the back of the head. Gurtner, the 43-year-old manager of the Airline store, was shot 12 times, including several times in the back.
Turner’s first day of work at CarQuest’s Plank Road location was 11 days before the slayings.
“He executed Randy Chaney and he hunted Eddie Gurtner down like a dog,” Barbera told the jury.
Lagattuta insisted the CarQuest case does not rise to the level of the Derrick Todd Lee case or the Sandy Hook Elementary mass school shooting case or the Boston Marathon bombing case.
Once again, Barbera saw things differently.
“This is their Derrick Todd Lee. This is their Sandy Hook. This is their Boston Marathon bombing,” the prosecutor said passionately, pointing into the crowded audience where the victims’ wives, Elizabeth Gurtner and Lola Chaney, and other family members of the two men sat.
Some of those family members wept during the closing arguments. They did not speak with reporters after the two first-degree murder guilty verdicts were announced.
Moore said victim impact testimony will be heard in the penalty phase.
Lagattuta told reporters that she had hoped the jury would hand down a lesser verdict, such as second-degree murder, which would have carried an automatic life sentence.
“This case has always been about the penalty,” she said.
“We’ve had much discussion about a plea with everybody, but it didn’t work out,” Lagattuta added.
Moore said Turner’s attorneys had asked his office to take the death penalty off the table and try the case as a second-degree murder, but his office rejected that request.
“The only offer the defense made was not an offer,” he said, adding that the state never offered anything to Turner.
Barbera argued to jurors that Gurtner, who died with the store keys in one hand, and Chaney are dead for only one reason: Turner, 21 at the time, “placed more value on money than on human life.”
“Greed. Selfish. Only worried about himself and what he wanted. That’s it. That’s what this is all about,” she told the 12 jurors and two alternate jurors.
The two male alternate jurors did not take part in the deliberations or the guilty verdict reached shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, but they will return Tuesday morning to the 19th Judicial District Courthouse with the 12 jurors and will hear all of the penalty phase arguments and evidence.
The alternate jurors, however, will not play a role in the penalty phase verdict.
Under state law, there must be a 12-hour cooling off period between the guilt and penalty phases of a capital murder trial.
Barbera painted Turner as a cold-blooded murderer, but Lagattuta argued he is no criminal mastermind, as evidenced by the fact that he tossed the gun in bushes directly behind the store and discarded Regions Bank bags, CarQuest deposit slips and the clothes he was wearing in a garbage can outside the Ritterman Avenue home where he lived with an uncle.
“Not a mastermind. Not planned,” Lagattuta told the jury. She also said Turner is not a thug.
In some of the most poignant moments Monday, Barbera held up the .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol; the bank bags, deposit slips and clothes; and then loudly counted to seven as she put seven evidence envelopes containing the seven bullets taken from Gurtner’s body on a wooden rail in front of the jury.
The prosecutor contended the fatal armed robbery was planned. She said the planning began at least as early as the day before when Turner visited the now-closed Government Street CarQuest and asked a female employee there if she was working alone.
The worker told Turner that a delivery driver also was on duty, a statement that Barbera said might have saved her life.
Turner was still “plotting” the next morning — the day of the murders — when he went to the Airline Highway store and introduced himself to Gurtner. Turner returned to that store right before its scheduled 3 p.m. closing.