East Baton Rouge Parish’s first death penalty prosecution in five years is set to open Monday with the painstaking process of picking a jury to try Lee Turner Jr. in the 2011 slaying of two workers at the CarQuest Auto Parts store on Airline Highway.
Turner, 25, was hired by the company less than two weeks before the killings and worked at CarQuest locations on Plank Road and Government Street.
Edward Gurtner III, 43, of Denham Springs, who managed the Airline store near Siegen Lane, and Randy Chaney, 55, of Greenwell Springs, were found shot to death inside the store on March 27, 2011, shortly after it closed that Sunday afternoon.
Both men were husbands and fathers.
Authorities said Turner confessed to sheriff’s detectives in a videotaped statement, telling them he went to the store to rob it but wound up shooting Gurtner and Chaney after one of them recognized him.
State District Judge Richard Anderson ruled in 2012 that prosecutors can use the statement at Turner’s first-degree murder trial. Anderson also decided in 2013 that physical evidence — money, bank bags and CarQuest deposit slips — seized during a search of Turner’s Ritterman Avenue home in Baton Rouge the day after the murders can be introduced to the jury at trial.
A search warrant application states that surveillance video from two local businesses shows a vehicle fitting the description of Turner’s white BMW circling the block where the CarQuest store is located several times after 3 p.m. on the day the two men were killed.
Prosecutor Tracey Barbera has requested that the jury be allowed to visit the crime scene.
“By viewing the crime scene in person, the members of the jury will have a more thorough understanding of the defendant’s actions before, during and after the commission of the crimes,” Barbera contends in a motion filed Wednesday.
The lead sheriff’s detective on the case testified at a December 2011 hearing that Gurtner and Chaney were likely murdered between 2:47 p.m., when the last employee to see them alive clocked out, and 3:13 p.m., when the men could not be reached by phone. The store closed at 3 p.m. that day.
Margaret Lagattuta, one of Turner’s court-appointed attorneys, said jury selection is expected to last one to two weeks. Potential jurors will be questioned individually about their views on capital punishment. Barbera said the trial could take the same amount of time to complete. The jury will be sequestered during the trial.
If Turner is convicted of first-degree murder, jurors then must decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Turner’s attorneys have subpoenaed several out-of-state witnesses specifically for the penalty phase of the trial, including his maternal aunt and uncle and his former basketball coach at Johnston City High School in Illinois.
Dacarius Holliday, of St. Louis, is the last person to receive a death sentence in East Baton Rouge Parish. He was convicted and condemned to die in March 2010 for the 2007 beating death of his Baton Rouge girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Darian Coon.
An autopsy revealed Darian suffered 75 contusions to his body and lacerations to his liver and kidney, among other injuries.
Holliday’s capital murder trial was the first such prosecution by East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III’s office since he took office in January 2009.
Prior to Holliday’s case, the last death sentences returned in East Baton Rouge were in 2008, when Anthony Bell and Sanchez Brumfield were condemned to die in April and May of that year, respectively. Bell was convicted of killing his wife and four in-laws in May 2006. Brumfield was found guilty of taking part in the fatal shooting of an Olive Garden restaurant employee in September 2006.
Holliday, Bell and Brumfield are all on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, awaiting execution.