A petition was filed Friday in Orangeburg County Court to bar the mother, father and family of Bowen Turner from contacting any of his victims or their family members.
The victims are asking the court to expand an existing permanent restraining order that was put in place against Turner as part of his April 8 plea deal.
Less than a week after that, one of the victims’ mothers said she was contacted by an unknown male who apologized on Turner’s behalf and told her that he was reaching out on the teen’s behalf.
He said Turner had a “bright future” and that she and her family were “dampening” it by publicly sharing their daughter’s story.
Three days later, Turner’s mother reached out twice to this same victim’s father, according to court documents.
Prior to pleading guilty to a single count of first-degree assault and battery, Turner stood accused of raping three teen girls in three different South Carolina counties. The third case occurred in June 2019, 41 days after the court approved the removal of Turner’s ankle monitor while he was out on bond in the second case.
While awaiting trial in two of the three cases, reports began to emerge that Turner had been seen violating an August 2019 court order that strictly limited his movements via ankle monitor and called for his immediate arrest should he step out of those bounds.
On March 2 of this year the 2nd Circuit Solicitor’s Office learned that between November 2021 and February 2022, Turner had violated the order more than 65 times.
One of those times was to visit the gravesite of one of his victims.
Yet Turner was never arrested.
Instead, a hearing was scheduled to consider the prosecutor’s motion for bond revocation, and Turner was allowed to remain free in the meantime despite the court’s order, which explicitly said he should wait in jail.
Even more stunning, that hearing for bond revocation became a hearing to consider a plea deal, and Turner was sentenced to five years’ probation, during which he is required to attend “sex offender counseling.” If he violates the terms of his probation, he will have to register as a sex offender.
However, in two years, he can petition the court to have the remainder of his probation terminated.
This case has gained widespread attention not only because of the number of allegations against Turner, who was just 16 when he was first charged, and the heinous nature of the accusations against him, but also because it once again raises questions about South Carolina’s justice system, which awards those who can afford to hire state legislators to represent them in court.
Power-Brokering in South Carolina
Turner’s lawyer Brad Hutto, a longtime state senator from Orangeburg County, and other legislator-attorneys in the state publicly deny that their positions of power grant their clients any special consideration in the courtroom.
But many see those denials as intellectually dishonest.
State senators not only decide on budgetary matters, they have unique access to people and information that are otherwise unavailable to civilian attorneys.
They also control who gets to sit on the bench.
Because of this dynamic, and depending on their particular degree of influence at the Statehouse, legislator-attorneys are undeniably hired sometimes to merely serve as fat fingers on the scale of justice.
During what has been described as a “humiliating” process, those who want to be judges in South Carolina must kiss the rings of legislators if they have any hope of being handed a gavel.
But a bigger problem in South Carolina might be how judges keep their gavels.
In a Dec. 14, 2013, column for The State newspaper, Cindi Scoppe wrote: “The unfortunate fact is that not even the most honest person is capable of always ignoring the fact that he owes his job to one of the two lawyers standing before him … No matter how hard you try to overlook such things, it’s human nature to, if nothing else, give the benefit of the doubt to the person you know and trust.”
Prosecutor David Miller, of the 2nd Circuit Solicitor’s Office, was assigned to the case after 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe recused himself and his office because of a conflict of interest.
At the time, Turner’s father, Walt, worked as an investigator for Pascoe’s team
However, questions have been raised about the judicial ambitions of Miller — who has sought a judgeship several times since 2012, according to public records. Family members of the victims have wondered whether Miller’s apparent aspirations affected his decision-making in this case.
Questions have also been raised about Judge Markley Dennis, a retired at-large judge whose presence at Orangeburg County Court at the beginning of the month was perhaps unusual. A look at his publicly available schedule shows that Dennis hasn’t presided over Orangeburg County General Sessions since 2013.
Dennis, according to news reports since 1994, has been repeatedly criticized by the public for his seemingly lenient treatment of defendants.
Dennis’ decisions include:
- 1994: A man accused of killing his wife was allowed to move to New York while awaiting trial, even though law enforcement expressed concern that he might try to return to his home country of Brazil. Law enforcement said the man, whose attorney was Andy Savage, knew information about the murder that only the killer would have known. His charge was ultimately dismissed.
- 1995: A man who pleaded guilty to raping his daughter from age 5 to 14 was sentenced to “therapy.”
- 2000: A former Sumter County coach accused of taking more than $200K in school district money for himself was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a $45K fine. In 2006, it would become clear that the coach still had not paid his fine. This case was part of a larger $3.5 million embezzlement investigation. All suspects in that case escaped with light sentences from Dennis and fines much lower than what was taken. In the days after this case, a number was posted for the public to call in complaints to the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
- 2003: A woman’s phone went off during a sentencing hearing for a murder conviction. She dashed out of the courtroom, fumbling with her phone. Dennis sent deputies after her. She was sentenced to two nights in jail despite pleading for leniency because she had three kids at home.
- 2020: A Colleton County sheriff charged with a dozen corruption charges pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and battery, breach of trust and misconduct in office. He was sentenced to five years of probation.
In 2021, an analysis by Live 5 reporters Jared Kofsky and Carter Coyle found that 46 murder suspects were granted bond in 2018 and 2019 in Charleston County.
“In 80 percent of those cases … R. Markley Dennis Jr. was the judge,” they wrote.
‘A Bright Future’
The restraining order issued April 8 — which expires in 2092 — barred Turner from contacting Chloe Bess and her family, the family of Dallas Stoller, as well as a third victim and her family.
Her family — as well as Bess and her family — began speaking out around the time of the plea deal.
Their stories have been met with horror.
While waiting more than three years for the solicitor to adjudicate her case, Stoller died in November 2021.
The order prohibits Turner from “abusing, threatening to abuse or molesting the Victims or members of Victims’ families,” from “entering or attempting to enter the Complainant’s place of residence, employment, or education,” and from “communicating or attempting to communicate with the Complainant or members of the Complainant’s family in any way.”
The request filed Friday, asks the court to also forbid Turner’s mother, Jennifer Turner, and his father, Walt Turner, as well as his family from “communicating or attempting to communicate with the victims and their families directly or indirectly.”