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Second boy to stand trial in shooting of Utah girl; parents say she is recovering

Published March 23, 2017 10:47 pm

Testimony • He helped alleged shooter plot to kill girl, prosecutors say.
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Logan • On the day that a Utah judge ordered a second teen boy to stand trial on charges related to the shooting of 14-year-old Deserae Turner, the girl's father spoke publicly for the first time, saying their prayers have been answered.

More than a month after the girl was shot and left to die in a Smithfield canal, Matt Turner said his daughter is recovering at Primary Children's Hospital. She was admitted to inpatient rehabilitation Wednesday, and will continue to undergo therapy.

"We continue to be hopeful for improvement in our daughter's condition," the father said. "She has undergone a tough surgery and continues to fight for the ability to complete daily tasks many of us take for granted."

The family statement came after a day of preliminary hearing testimony for one of two boys charged with attempted murder, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice in connection to the Feb. 16 shooting. A nearly identical hearing was held the day prior for the alleged shooter, and Juvenile Judge Angela Fonnesbeck came to the same conclusion for both 16-year-old boys: That there was probable cause for the cases to move forward.

Now, Fonnesbeck will decide whether the cases will stay in the juvenile court system — where the boys can face a maximum penalty of secure juvenile care until they reach age 21 — or be moved to the adult system. There, they can face the same penalties as they would if they were adults. Separate hearings for the teens are scheduled in early May.

Prosecutors allege that the two boys plotted Turner's murder, and lured her to the canal on that day under the guise of selling her a pocketknife. To keep her in the concealed area, Cache County Attorney James Swink said, the boys told her that the second teen had lost a "spinner" ring in the mud. As she turned to walk away to head home, the alleged shooter took a .22-caliber gun from his pocket and fired a single shot, according to police testimony. The boys then took the girl's backpack, stole money from her purse and smashed her iPod and cell phone.

At the hospital in early March, Turner asked her sister to send a Snapchat to the second teen, according to police testimony, asking him if he had found his ring. At this time, she did not know that police believed this boy and his friend were responsible for the shooting — or that when the teen was brought to a detention center, he was wearing the same "spinner" ring she described.

Swink said this ring, along with other evidence like text messages, tied the second boy to the scene of the "cruel" crime. The county attorney said that under Utah's accomplice laws, the second teen was just as culpable for the shooting because he aided and encouraged his friend to fire the gun.

But the boy's defense attorney, Shannon Demler, had argued there was no evidence incriminating his client besides the confessions of his friend, who admitted to police that he shot the girl and said he planned the killing with his friend after he tired of Turner messaging him.

"[Prosecutors] come up with this thing, that it was this big scheme, a big plan," Demler argued, "but they don't give you any evidence of that. [The alleged shooter] is a murderer, that's what he is. The second thing [he] is, is a liar."

Throughout the Wednesday hearing, the blond teen hung his head low — particularly during testimony about what he told police officers after the girl was discovered badly injured in the canal.

Logan police Detective Matt Woods testified Wednesday that initially the boy told him that he hadn't seen Turner in months. The teen said that on the day of the shooting, he played video games with his friend at both of their houses, and had stopped at a local gas station for snacks.

But when Woods pressed him, the teen changed his story, saying that there was a 45-minute window when his friend had left him alone.

During an interview break, Woods testified, the teen doodled a gun on a napkin. The boy told the detective that it was a gun that belonged to his friend's brother — a gun, the teen claimed, that was shown to him once several months ago. Police believe the other teen used that gun to shoot Turner.

Woods testified the teen changed his story several more times, and became more agitated as the interview went on.

At one point, he told the detective that he had been at the canal, but didn't witness the shooting. Then, he said he watched his friend shoot Turner. Another time, he mentioned he saw the shooting and tried to run away from his friend.

"I asked him specifically if he planned the murder of Deserae Turner," Woods testified. "He said he had not."

During cross-examination, defense attorneys for both boys questioned interview techniques used by police. Demler questioned whether Woods gave his client an adequate explanation of his Miranda rights, and whether it was appropriate to not allow the boy's mother in the interview room during the heated interrogation.

On the day of the shooting, Turner texted a friend and said she was "getting picked on" by the two older boys, adding that "they want to fight," according to texts read aloud in court.

But Cache County Sheriff Deputy Brian Groves testified Tuesday that the alleged shooter told him that he didn't think Turner ever knew that he had a gun in hand that day or that he had pointed it at the back of her head and fired the single shot.

"It was the most merciful way," the teen told Groves, according the deputy's testimony.

Shooting the girl on that particular day was not the original plan, Groves added. The alleged shooter told Groves that he had met Turner at the canal days before, intending to kill her then.

"He was supposed to slit her throat," the deputy said. "He indicated to me that he couldn't do it."

The two teen boys had concocted a similar plan on Feb. 16, the teen told Groves, and had brought a gun as a back-up. But they realized at some point that neither could cut the girl's throat, the teen later confessed to Groves.

He looked back at his friend and, with a look and nod, he knew it was time to pull out his gun and fire.

Groves testified that the teen told him that he initially only joked to his friend about getting rid of Turner because he "got tired" of her messaging.

But his friend told him, "It would be pretty easy to get rid of her," Groves testified.

From there, the boys planned and plotted until that day when the alleged shooter met Turner at the canal a second time. The second boy came to the canal after his friend summoned him with a texted code word of "Hey," Groves testified.

The text messages between the two boys continued, according to testimony, even as they were at the canal with Turner.

"Let's get this done, bro," one of the boys texted, to which the other responded, "Yeah man, hold on. Are we clear?"

By that evening, Turner's parents had reported her missing and news of her disappearance was spreading on social media.

Two women who knew the Turner family walked a trail near the canal that evening and spotted the girl. They covered her with their coats, the women testified, and called 911.

Initially, first responders believed Turner was suffering from hypothermia. Later medics found the gunshot wound.

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juveniles who have been charged with crimes, unless they have been certified to stand trial in adult court.







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