Family challenges Chanda Turner suicide ruling; case reopened
10/03/2017 12:50 pm PDT
A woman found shot to death; a homicide then strangely ruled a suicide: Was the switch made to conceal the truth?
Pauls Valley, Oklahoma native Chanda Turner worked at a law firm and was soon headed to paralegal school. But the home front was a bit less stable. She lived with her boyfriend Robby Tucker. And her family noticed that over time, small red flags became much bigger ones.
"He was manipulating her. I just didn't like the way he treated her," said Chanda's father Joe Turner.
"He needed to have control," said Donna Turner, Chanda's mother. "I felt like he wanted to see if he could control her, like, if she would choose him over something else. It just seemed to escalate."
Did Chanda ever say she was going to leave Robby?
"Yes," said Donna.
And Chanda did leave Robby. Just tragically not how she'd ever imagined.
July 12, 2000:
911 Operator: "Police department."
Woman: "Yes, I need a police officer or a sheriff's department on Klondike Road. We think a lady's been shot. I don't know the details. I don't know nothing. I was just told to call you."
911 Operator: "What is the woman's name, do you know?"
Woman: "Uh, Chanda."
It was 7 a.m. on a warm July morning when sheriff's deputies arrived at the Turners' home with devastating news. Deputies said Chanda died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Her parents said "no way."
"No, she was not suicidal," said Chanda's mother Donna Turner. "It was the total opposite. It was all about plans, and her future. She was talking about what she wanted in her future and every aspect of her life."
Surprisingly, the 23-year-old's body was not taken to the morgue.
"I'm assuming that she's going to the medical examiner's," said Donna. "I said 'Where is she?' And they said she was in this funeral home. And I said 'I don't want her there.' I said 'Who told you to take her there?' And they wouldn't answer me."
Donna went to the funeral home and eventually got to see her daughter.
"Bruises. A lot of bruises. Cut and scrapes," Donna tells Crime Watch Daily.
Apparent wounds up and down her arms, legs, on her knees, shoulder and more. Her right hand had a big bruise, like she had slugged someone, her parents said.
"She was beat up from the neck down," said Joe Turner.
After taking photos of her daughter's battered body Donna went to the house to get Chanda's favorite dress for burial.
While there, she sees something disturbing and suspicious.
"There is a pool of blood-soaked carpet that I stepped over when I walked into the house, inside the back room," said Donna.
Blood in the house? Was it related to Chanda's death?
The Turners need for answers intensifies, but few details slowly trickle in.
"Chanda was found by her live-in boyfriend, Robert Tucker," said Turner family attorney Jaye Mendros. "According to him, he found her deceased on the back porch."
The Turners also learn that when deputies first arrived, they treated it like a homicide. Then three hours afterward, the medical examiner investigator ruled it a suicide because of the location and nature of the wound, gunpowder residue found on Chanda, and a mark on her hand believed to be from the "action of the handgun."
Not everyone agrees.
"The medical-examiner investigator arrives, who is not a pathologist, is not a trained doctor, is just an investigator, he accepts the word of the boyfriend that he found her after she shot herself, and closes the case out as a suicide," said Jaye Mendros.
Astoundingly, no autopsy was done.
"We begged. We did not want to have the burial until an autopsy. And we begged right up until the burial," said Donna Turner. "We were saying before they buried her, 'We'll pay for it.' Why not do it? And it was no."
According to the Turners, the sheriff's department refused each request. So they buried their daughter -- but they did it with a plan. They sealed Chanda in an enclosed crypt at the top of the highest piece of land at the graveyard.
"We left the cemetery that day knowing that we were going to be back there, there was going to be an exhumation," said Donna.
Chanda's parents were gearing up for the fight of their lives.
And then several months later, a break: A package is dropped off by an anonymous person from the Garvin County Sheriff's Office.
As Chanda Turner's parents tried to prove their daughter would never take her own life, they received some help, thanks to an anonymous package that arrived on their doorstep several months after her death.
"He said 'I have exhausted everything that I can do, I hope you have better luck,'" said Donna Turner, Chanda's mother.
Inside the package was a wealth of information: All the police reports, crime scene photos and witness statements from that deadly night.
"Everything the sheriff's department had came right in our hands," said Joe Turner, Chanda's father.
The Turners reached out to defense attorney Jaye Mendros and ask her to take a critical look at the evidence.
"They wanted somebody who normally tears cases apart to give them an honest opinion," Mendros tells Crime Watch Daily. "If the case was a suicide, that they would accept that. And I looked over the police reports and the crime scene photos and was astounded at how this case had been handled.
"Nothing supported suicide," said Mendros. "It was a staged suicide, and it was so badly staged that it raised red flags from the beginning. There was apparent crime-scene tampering inside the home. The crime scene did not match the statement of the live-in boyfriend. He had fresh injuries on his body, Chanda was covered in bruises."
So what did all the evidence reveal? Earlier that day, Chanda and Robby were hanging out at the lake with their friends Heather and Andy Adkins.
"Chanda and Mr. Tucker had been with another couple, they were drinking, so there was some partying going on," said Mendros.
Reportedly, Andy fought with both Chanda and Robby, then left. So the couple invited Heather to stay with them. And before she fell asleep on the sofa, Heather said Chanda was "smiling and happy like she always was."
According to police reports, Robby said he "went to bed earlier," then woke to find Chanda slumped on the porch covered in blood. Once he realized she was dead, he moved her body off the steps and laid her on the ground. Then he left.
"That was the first red flag," said Mendros. "Instead of doing anything to help her immediately, he left."
Police say Robby Tucker drove about a half-mile down a country road and ended up at the house of his father David Tucker. Robby told police he went to his dad's because he didn't have a phone.
Some time goes by. Then when Robby finally returns to the scene, he's not alone. His father David was with him. Then almost an hour after Robby said he found Chanda, 911 is finally called.
Sondra Tucker, Robby's stepmother, was the one who made the call to 911.
Sondra Tucker: "We think a lady's been shot. I don't know the details. I don't know anything. I was just told to call you.
"I think she's real bad. And I've called the ambulance to come out there but they want the police out there."
911: "And you'll be there where you can wave them down?"
Sondra Tucker: "No, I'm not even there. My husband went down there, they said she, he said he didn't, he just thought she'd been shot, he didn't know for sure."
"It was his stepmom, she calls the police station and says 'They've been down there, I haven't been down there but they've been down there,'" said Joe Turner. "'They've been down there.'"
Sheriff's deputies arrive and begin their investigation. They start with waking Heather Adkins, who was still asleep on the sofa. What did she know, see or hear?
While deputies talk to her, other investigators stumble upon a lot of blood -- everywhere, not just outside where Chanda was found, but inside, all over the house.
"The crime scene photos clearly show blood throughout the house, that the sheets had been stripped off the bed, that there was still blood on the mattress, despite the sheets being removed," said Turner family attorney Jaye Mendros. "There was a bottle of cleaning solution in the bedroom.
"He claimed he fell asleep on the bed, on the same bed that is now missing sheets and has blood on it," said Mendros.
"This is the room, directly inside this back door here, and my theory is that she was shot in the bedroom, the body was laid here so he could open the back door, and then position her here on these back steps," said Mendros. "Detective Parker indicates in his crime scene analysis that that's not nearly enough blood for her to have shot herself there and died there. That supports the staging."
"Their story from the sheriff's office was all of the blood inside the house was transferred from Robby," said Donna.
The problem with that is Robby told police he didn't remember going back in the house after finding Chanda. So how did blood end up in all those places?
Testing showed gunshot residue on Chanda's hands. But what about Robby's hands?
"He didn't have gunshot residue on him," said Mendros. "What he also had done was he had washed his hands. He had blood all over his legs, blood from handling the body, but his hands were scrubbed clean."
And it turns out the crime scene became a Grand Central Station of sorts, with many people logged in and out of that house that night.
"Some of them were just relatives. It was like they were having a family reunion in the house while she's dead on the lawn," said Mendros.
And one of those relatives was Robert Rennie Jr., Robby's stepfather, a criminal defense attorney.
Are defense attorneys normally allowed into the crime scene of their clients?
"Never," said Mendros. "Never."
To the Turners and Jaye Mendros, it seemed like overwhelming evidence. But it would take an eternity to get any officials to agree.
Nine long years after Chanda's death, the district attorney orders an autopsy. But first Chanda Turner's body would have to be exhumed.
"We had to do it, it had to be done but it was horrible. It was horrible," said Donna Turner. "Joe and my son were there, I think they had shovels, helping."
"Very important," said Joe. "It was necessary. An autopsy would give us the proof what we always knew that she didn't kill herself."
"I absolutely believe that Chanda was murdered," said Turner family attorney Jaye Mendros. "I believe that the suicide was staged by her live-in boyfriend to cover his tracks. And I believe all of that based on the evidence."
At the time of Chanda's death, no autopsy was performed. Then nine years later, the court finally ordered one.
Oklahoma Medical Examiner Dr. Collie Trant conducted the examination along with Dr. Robert Bux, who was hired by Chanda Turner's family. Their findings tell a story different from Robby's claim that Chanda killed herself.
"When we did the examination, you could see the path of the gunshot wound was from front to back, a little downward and a little from the left to the right," Dr. Bux tells Crime Watch Daily. "The defect in the door is going upward, so that doesn't work. That's not where she was shot.
"I think she was probably shot in the bedroom because there's a lot of blood in there," said Dr. Bux. "Bedding had been removed. There were pools of blood that had been tried to be cleaned up. In fact you could see the cleaning agent that they were using."
If someone else shot Chanda, how could the wound on Chanda's hand and gunshot residue found on her be explained?
"The crime lab reported that it meant that her hands were in close proximity to when a gun was fired," Dr. Bux. "It's possible that she was trying to wrestle the gun away from him, or trying to get it away from being pointed at her at the time of discharge."
If that's the case, then why wasn't there any gunshot residue on Robby's hands?
"After Chanda was shot he went to his father's house and then came back to the scene. It doesn't take much to get rid of gunshot residue, so it doesn't surprise me that he doesn't have any," said Dr. Bux.
So Robby Tucker's hands are clean of residue, but the saddest reveal was about to come.
"911 wasn't contacted for over an hour," said Dr. Bux. "If they had been called right away, I think that she had a reasonable chance for resuscitation. There is nothing in that gunshot wound that would have impaired her so that she would be able to move around, she would be able to talk. This young woman bled for quite a while before she died."
An EMT report says that "Graves told me that he remembered either David Tucker or Robby Tucker saying 'She was sitting there talking after she was shot.'"
"It supports the findings of the autopsy that she would have survived this gunshot wound for a significant amount of time after receiving it, and secondly, they're not saying she was talking after she shot herself. They were saying 'she was talking after she was shot' -- someone else shot her and she was alive and instead of getting her help, there's an hour, at least an hour, that 911 isn't called. And they are overheard saying she was talking, and no one got her help, and no one got arrested that night," said Jaye Mendros. "That's not justice."
When Trant and Bux completed their autopsy, they agreed.
"This is obviously a homicide," said Dr. Robert Bux. "The scene's been altered. This is not a suicide."
Then a proverbial punch to the gut:
"Before Dr. Trant could change the death certificate, he was fired by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office," said Jaye Mendros. "And he's now deceased, unfortunately."
And Trant's replacement made her own changes.
"Left it a suicide, checked that no autopsy had been done, checked a box that said a heavy truck was involved in the death, had the victim's date of birth wrong," said Mendros. "I mean, the errors were staggering in this report."
Eventually, Chanda's manner of death was changed from suicide to "could not be determined." A small victory leading up to a bigger one: the reopening of Chanda Turner's case.
"It was past time for this case to be looked at again," said Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes.
For the new sheriff in town, a lot didn't add up.
"The investigation at first was very substandard, I saw that right away," said Sheriff Rhodes. "It clearly did not follow what I do and how I was trained on crime scenes. Very glaring. It was a very poor investigation."
How disturbing is it to have 21 different people in and out of this house?
"Disturbing does not describe my thought of that investigation," said Rhodes. "It's absurd to think that a crime scene was so improperly handled. Evidence was not preserved. You only have one opportunity to get the crime scene right. The one chance to get physical evidence at a crime scene was lost in this case."
One of the most troubling things in this case is the amount of time that from the moment when Chanda was found until the 911 call was made.
"Troubling to me as an investigator as well," said Rhodes.
Could Robby Tucker be charged, if not for the shooting but for delaying and rendering aid or having help come to assist Chanda?
"I believe he could," said Sheriff Rhodes. "You know, any time a person does not act and it results in another person's death, you know, at the least it could be manslaughter or a even a second-degree type of a murder charge."
So where is Robby Tucker these days? He was charged with shooting with intent to kill, as well as aggravated assault and battery against his then-girlfriend, Sheriff Rhodes tells Crime Watch Daily.
That's right: In a separate case, Robby Tucker was arrested, accused of shooting a different girlfriend.
"Not surprised at all, not surprised at all," said Chanda's mother Donna.
"I'm surprised it took as long as it did for him to do something like that to somebody else," said Joe Turner.
Robby Tucker has pleaded not guilty to those charges. Tucker was being held without bond. Crime Watch Daily sent him a letter asking to hear his side of things, but unfortunately Tucker doesn't wish to talk.
"Anyone present in a suspicious-death investigation is a person of interest to me. To call Mr. Tucker or anyone else present during Chanda's death a person of interest, absolutely," said Sheriff Rhodes. "They all interest me because at some point they became involved in this death investigation."
We wanted to talk to Robby's father David Tucker and his stepfather and defense attorney Robert Rennie Jr., both of whom were at the scene that night. We emailed and called them several times and tried to talk to them in person, but they never responded to any of our attempts.
"Since reopening this it has led us to new witnesses, to new information," said Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes. "We have found additional physical evidence that warrants this investigation being reviewed again by a prosecutor. It's significant evidence."
And the Turners, who will never stop fighting for justice, have offered a $100,000 reward for the person with information leading to the arrest and conviction of Chanda's killer.
Sheriff Rhodes tells Crime Watch Daily he's hoping to finalize his new report on Chanda Turner's death soon and then present it to the prosecutor.