The man accused of fatally shooting two CarQuest Auto Parts employees 11 days after the company hired him in March 2011 visited the Airline Highway location where the killings took place once the day before the killings and twice that tragic day, a prosecutor and one of the deceased men’s sons testified Thursday on the first day of Lee Turner Jr.’s capital murder trial.
An East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s investigator also testified that the day after the March 27, 2011, killings, he searched a Ritterman Avenue home where Turner was living and found a plastic bag in an outdoor garbage can that contained green Regions Bank bags and two CarQuest deposit slips for the Airline store.
The deposit slips, dated March 25 and March 26 of 2011, were for $125 and $357 in cash, respectively, but no money was found in the bank bags, Lt. Allen Bourdier said. But Bourdier said he found a wad of cash, $350 wrapped by a rubber band, in Turner’s bedroom.
Turner, 25, faces a possible death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of Eddie Gurtner III, 43, of Denham Springs, who managed the CarQuest on Airline near Siegen Lane, and Randy Chaney, 55, of Greenwell Springs.
Edward “Joey” Gurtner IV said he delivered breakfast on March 27, 2011, to his father’s store and noticed a white BMW parked behind the store and a man walking along the side of the business.
Joey Gurtner said his father identified the young man as the nephew of a man he knew. The nephew was Lee Turner Jr., the owner of the late-model BMW. The Ritterman home belonged to Turner’s uncle, the man the elder Gurtner knew.
Joey Gurtner said that was the last time he spoke with his father.
Later that afternoon, Edward Gurtner III’s wife, Elizabeth Gurtner, and Joey Gurtner found the elder Gurtner dead inside the warehouse of the Airline store. The body of Chaney, an assistant manager of the CarQuest on Staring Lane, was discovered in the warehouse by police who responded to Elizabeth Gurtner’s frantic 911 call that jurors heard Thursday.
The trial will resume Friday in state District Judge Richard Anderson’s courtroom. The jury is being kept in a hotel for the trial’s duration.
In her opening statement to the jury, East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Tracey Barbera said Turner — who worked at CarQuest stores on Government Street and Plank Road — actually shook Edward Gurtner III’s hand that ill-fated Sunday morning when Turner came to the Airline location.
Barbera said Turner visited the now-closed Government Street store the day before and asked a CarQuest employee there how the store handled deposits.
The next day, minutes before the Airline store closed for the day at 3 p.m., an employee who clocked out at 2:47 p.m. said Turner showed up asking for Gurtner as the employee was leaving the store, Barbera told the jury.
The prosecutor said Gurtner was not scheduled to work that Sunday but came in anyway to handle some stocking duties and to hang a bathroom mirror. Chaney, she added, was working at the Airline location that day as part of a rotation away from the Staring Lane store.
Turner was scheduled to work at the Airline store on March 30, 2011, Barbera said.
Turner, 21 years old at the time, used his status as a disguised CarQuest employee to rob the Airline store and kill Gurtner and Chaney, who was shot once in the back of the head, she said. Gurtner was shot seven times, apparently while running for his life, she told the jury. Barbera said a trail of spent shell casings led to Gurtner’s body. Nine casings were found in the warehouse.
“That man disguised himself as a co-worker, a friend,” said Barbera, pointing directly at Turner. “This man hid in the CarQuest in plain sight and murdered these two men for money.”
In addition to the bank bags and deposit slips, Bourdier said a bag of clothes — boots, pants and belt, shirt, shorts and gloves — was discovered inside the Ritterman Avenue garbage can that he searched.
Barbera said Turner confessed on March 28, 2011 — the same day those items were discovered — to the double murder and armed robbery. The murder weapon, a .380-caliber pistol, also was found that day by East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office investigator Chuck Smith in a canal behind the Airline store.
Turner also told detectives that he drove past the store with his pregnant girlfriend as investigators scoured the scene the evening of the murders.
Turner’s lead court-appointed attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, told the 12 jurors and two alternate jurors that Turner is not a “cold-blooded killer” and never intended to harm anyone.
“If he planned anything, he planned to steal money,” she argued in her opening statement.
Lagattuta acknowledged that Turner told detectives, “I wasn’t going to do it but everything went bad.”
She insisted that not every case charged as a first-degree murder is actually a first-degree murder.
Gurtner’s wife of nearly 20 years testified she and Joey Gurtner found her husband’s body in the store’s warehouse after he failed to answer his cellphone or the store’s phone that Sunday afternoon.
Chaney’s wife, Lola Chaney, testified she and her husband celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary on March 9, 2011 — less than three weeks before he was killed.