Stepdad walks free after mistrial in 2002 murder case of 2-year-old Jahi Turner
01/27/2017 1:16 pm PST
April 2, 2018: A huge update on a high-profile murder case out of San Diego, California.
Despite years of detective work, the defense told jurors there is still no hard evidence tying Tieray Jones to the murder of Jahi Turner. That wasn't just a minor problem. A stunning blow to the case was about to hit hard: jurors deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
Only two jurors felt Jones was guilty of second-degree murder. Ten believed he was guilty of manslaughter.
Jahi's heartbroken mother made an impassioned plea to the judge for a retrial. Prosecutors maintain Tieray Jones is to blame for Jahi's death. But citing a lack of physical evidence, the judge dismissed the murder charge.
Tieray Jones walked out of prison a free man. But prosecutors promised to keep fighting for justice.
The case can be re-filed if police are able to get significant new evidence, like finding the remains of Jahi Turner -- something investigators say they will not give up on.
Until then, his mother can only hope to get justice for the boy she left behind to protect this country.
Jan. 27, 2017
A man tells police he took his 2-year-old stepson to the playground, and when he goes to grab a drink from a vending machine, the boy was gone.
There has finally been an arrest in the case of Jahi Turner.
It's mystery that baffled cops in San Diego for more than a decade: adorable 2-year-old Jahi Turner went missing in April 2002.
As his stepfather Tieray Jones searched, he frantically describes the boys clothes to the operator.
Jones, now 37 years old, says he was with his toddler stepson, playing at a nearby park. But he went to a vending machine to buy a drink for the boy, and when he returned Jahi had vanished.
Jahi's mother Tameka a Navy sailor, was at sea when she left her son in the care of Tieray. A desperate search was soon underway.
"From that first call I never lost hope that we would find Jahi alive or bring his killer to justice," police said at a press conference.
Police and hundreds of volunteers spent weeks looking for the little boy in canyons and neighborhoods in the area, even sifting through thousands of pounds of trash at a landfill.
But Jahi's body was never found. His mother Tameka and Tieray standing together at a candle light vigil for little Jahi.
The couple addresses reporters at a press conference, pleading for the safe return of the little boy. But reporters weren't buying the story Tieray told police. And now it seems police don't either.
"Today we are announcing the arrest and prosecution of Jahi Turner's killer," said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Astonishingly, 14 and a half years later, a break in one of San Diego's most high-profile cold cases: A suspect is finally under arrest, and it's none other than Jahi's own stepfather, Tieray Jones.
"It confirms their worst fear that Jahi is in fact dead, but they are happy that they are going to get justice and resolution," said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman.
Investigators say they have unearthed disturbing evidence -- not at the park, but at the very home where Jahi lived with his parents.
And Jahi's fingerprints were never found on any play equipment at the park. Neighbors reported seeing Tieray dragging trash bags to the laundry room the day his son disappeared.
"It's not one piece of evidence that builds a case, it's many pieces of evidence," said Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney.
Investigators found at least one bloodstain on the carpet next to Jahi's bed. And police say an Elmo blanket recovered from a bed had Jahi's blood on it. But Jahi's mother testified that her son often had nosebleeds. And tests done on the blood droplets were inconclusive.
Tieray Jones's attorney argues that after more than 14 years, there is no hard evidence directly connecting Tieray to the murder.
"We have a case with no blood linking Mr. Jones to a murder, no explanation of what happened in that house, no explanation of what happened to a body," said defense attorney Alex Ozols.
He also argues that Jahi's mother felt her son was in safe hands with Jones.
"Tameka Turner noted that she believed Tieray was a good father at the time and she trusted him with her son," said Ozols. "We are hoping that the judge will see that there isn't enough evidence to go to trial on this case."
Tameka divorced Tieray Jones shortly before he was arrested for killing her son.
In a preliminary hearing prosecutors told the judge that Tieray did it out of anger because the 2-year-old had wet the bed, showing in court that he wrote about his frustrations in a journal he kept with his wife.
After hearing all of the testimony the judge addresses Tieray Jones directly, calling him out on the many inconsistencies in his story.