With the arrival of a nationally-known author, media personality and activist, we begin the process of shedding more light on some of Oklahoma's darkest secrets. For years, families have struggled in this State with a "good ole boy" system that delivered not justice, but cold justice.
Having practiced criminal law and worked on homicides in Oklahoma County for years, I was aware that we had a growing problem with our State Medical Examiner's Office. What I did not know until I met Joe and Donna Turner in September of 2009 was how the ME's Office's incompetence, stubborness and unwillingness to do its job has allowed corruption to thrive with law enforcement in smaller counties.
When a murder is covered up, or inadequately investigated, and an erroneous cause/manner of death determination is made by a good ole' boy who is NOT a physician, the ME's Office should NOT turn a blind eye and rubber stamp that determination.
The Turners fought for a decade to have an autopsy on their daughter, who was shot to death in July of 2000 at her home in Garvin County. If this had happened in Oklahoma County, the man who would have been the primary suspect, her live-in boyfriend, would have been detained and questioned. The crime scene would have been processed. Authorities would have noted several problems with his story: he claimed he found her dead outside on the back porch, yet EMTs reported they overheard him and his father saying "she was talking after she got shot." He claimed he moved her from the porch to the yard and did not re-enter the house before driving to his father's home for "help." Authorities may have wondered why he did not call police immediately, and what exactly he and his father did at the crime scene for almost an hour before 911 was called. Authorities may have thought it incriminating that although he claimed he did not re-enter the house after moving Chanda's supposedly dead body to the lawn, there was blood throughout the house, and evidence of a clean-up in the master bedroom, including missing sheets and a bottle of cleaning solution on the floor next to the bed. Authorities may have pressed the boyfriend to explain how he did not hear a gunshot if in fact Chanda actually shot herself, and how blood got on the mattress he was supposedly sleeping on, and why he changed clothes before they got there, and demanded an explanation as to why he had fresh scratches on his arms that night. Authorities may also have been alerted to foul play when Chanda's body told them what she could not in death: covered in bruises, from legs to arms to shoulders, her body screamed: I FOUGHT FOR MY LIFE. Suicide? This crime scene? Not on your life.
Unfortunately, the Garvin County Sheriff's office found none of this strange and, in fact, permitted the live-in boyfriend to have his father, attorney step-father, and friends inside the crime scene while they "processed" it. I imagine this went something along the lines of having coffee with a murder suspect and his family, with the Turners' dead daughter laying outside, covered in blood.
Everyone knows everyone in this small town, yet no one had the decency to even pick up a phone and call Chanda's parents to tell them she was dead.
Had GCSO spent any time at all time processing the body, or had any training whatsoever in blood spatter, they may have been alterted to foul play by the blood pattern on Chanda's face and body. The blood ran upward, not downward as it should have if she had shot herself and slumped over to die. Experts who have reviewed the crime scene photos agree that her body was in several different positions during the "event," none of which are consistent with suicide. The blood spatter is consistent with her being shot, then being bundled (remember the missing sheets?) and moved.
However, GCSO treated the death a suicide, and the ME's Office has a policy of not autopsying "suicides." So the lie perpetuated against Chanda Turner was rubber-stamped, and insult was added to injury. The worse crime one human being can commit against another is murder. The worst insult that can be added to that injury is painting the murder a suicide. Chanda was not only robbed of her life, but her memory was stained irreparably. And it is in perpetuating the lie like this, and letting GCSO get away with it, where the ME's Office is at fault.
Finally in December 2009, the Turners got a Court Order to have their daughter exhumed and a long-overdue autopsy performed. Both doctors at the autopsy ruled the death a homicide. Consistently with what the EMTs originally reported, the gunshot to her chest was not immediately fatal. This explains the delay in notifying police. Chanda was literally left to die, and in my opinion, based on the evidence, the crime scene was manipulated and staged (poorly) to look like a suicide. The poor staging may have been enough for Barney and Fife down in Garvin County, but it would not have fooled a competent pathologist. Even though it took 10 years, two competent pathologists ruled the death a homicide. The truth was finally official. But not for long.
Then politics, scandal and corruption in the ME's Office led to a firing of the Chief who had conducted the autopsy, and Chanda's case being tossed around like a hot potato to pathologists who were not at the autopsy and could not even make out the autopsy notes. To this day, the death certificate remains unchanged. And justice for Chanda Turner, despite the evidence, despite being dug up a decade after being laid to rest for an autopsy she should have had to begin with, despite everything remains a murder victim with no justice and with the added insult of a lie permeating her memory.
We hope with the help of people like Susan Murphy-Milano, as awareness increases of the many, many other cases bothed by authorities and the Oklahoma ME's Office, the truth will come to light and families will see justice for their deceased loved ones.
For more on Chanda Turner's case, and other cases across the State involving the Medical Examiner's Office, please visit http://www.justiceforthedead.com/.
Until that time, we continue to fight to give these families a voice. For that, we are very grateful to Ms. Murphy-Milano for coming to Oklahoma and joining us in our struggle.