Victor Turner in Berkeley County Court on March 14, 2024
Crime & Courts

Charges Dismissed In Decades-Old Child Murder Case

‘Unsolved Carolinas’ investigation goes back to the drawing board ….

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In a stunning turn of events, South Carolina circuit court judge Roger M. Young Sr. dismissed murder charges filed five months ago against the parents of five-year-old Justin Lee Turner – a Lowcountry child who went missing between his front door and a school bus stop in rural Berkeley County on March 3, 1989.

Citing the “unique circumstances” of the case, Young ruled on Friday (June 6, 2024) that the defendants – Justin’s parents – had seen their right to a fair trial in this “circumstantial evidence” case compromised due to the passage of time.

Turner’s disappearance three-and-a-half decades ago sparked an exhaustive search that centered on the Horseshoe Drive residence of his step-mother, Megan Renee Turner (f.k.a. Pamela Turner), and his father – Victor Lee “Buddy” Turner.

On the third day of the search, Victor Turner found his son’s body in a storage compartment of a travel camper in the family’s yard. Although the camper had been searched by law enforcement previously, those prior attempts did not reveal his location. The scenario prompted speculation that Justin’s body had been placed in a cabinet in the kitchen area after the search was underway.

In January, both Turners were charged with murder – but it didn’t take long for the case to start unraveling.

In a jaw-dropping hearing held on March 14, 2024, attorney Shaun Kent argued the lengthy delay between Turner’s murder and the January 2024 indictment of his client (Megan Turner) compromised her ability to receive a fair trial.

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(FITSTube)

Not only that, Kent dropped a bombshell when he invoked the name of a serial killer – a former member of the U.S. Navy whose ship docked at Charleston, S.C. on the day Justin was murdered. The serial killer he identified? Richard Marc Evonitz of Columbia, S.C. – who committed suicide in 2002 after being linked to the abduction and murder of several young girls.

At the March hearing, prosecutors admitted the evidence introduced by Kent was “explosive” – and asked the judge for time to review it. Young agreed – saying he would be taking the matter under advisement.

On Friday, June 7, 2024, Young filed an order agreeing with Kent – concluding that the “pre-indictment delay caused substantial actual prejudice” to both defendants infringing upon their right to a fair trial. He also noted there were “similarities in Justin Turner’s case and the methods used by (Evonitz) in assaulting and murdering his victims.”

Ultimately, though, his decision came down to time …

According to the judge, “in 1989 there were more than twenty witnesses who would have testified in this case who are no longer available to testify.”

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“The Turners have suffered substantial actual prejudice in that their ability to confront these witnesses would be meaningfully impaired and would impact the disposition of the criminal proceedings,” Young ruled. “This is a circumstantial evidence case which depends in part on supposedly incriminating statements made to third persons. Unavailability of those witnesses for cross-examination would be highly prejudicial to the defense.”

The charges against the Turners were dropped “with prejudice” – meaning the ruling is final and the case cannot be retried at any point.

S.C. ninth circuit solicitor, Scarlett Wilson, released a statement following Young’s order …

Our hearts are with those who loved and cared for sweet Justin Turner. Your devotion to him is inspiring to everyone. Without question, Justin knew your love for him.

Berkeley County is fortunate to have a Sheriff who is as committed to seeking justice as Sheriff Lewis and his team. From the moment he was sworn in, Sheriff Lewis has been unwavering in his efforts to bring Justin Turner’s killer(s) to justice.

While the warrants against Victor and Megan Turner were supported by probable cause, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Just as Sheriff Lewis has honored the oath of his office and his commitment to this community in pursuing justice for Justin, Judge Young has upheld the oath of his office by following the law. As the testimony at the motions hearing revealed, the time that has passed since this despicable crime has resulted in witness testimony and evidence that is now unavailable. Furthermore, mistakes that were made 35 years ago could not be remedied. The Court has found that the unavailability of this evidence is unjustly prejudicial to the defense. The Court has also noted the lack of any new evidence from this investigation. We have no grounds to dispute the Court’s findings.

It is rare that prosecutors can say there is nothing more that could have done to conduct a more thorough investigation, but in this case, we know that Sheriff Lewis and his team of investigators did all they could do to find truth and justice.

-S.C. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson

Our media outlet has been tracking Justin Turner’s case for some time.

Last summer, one of Justin’s friends who was on the bus that fateful day in March 1989 contacted us and suggested we include his story as part of our Unsolved Carolinas series. Upon making contact with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) last September, however, we were asked to hold off on such a report because of new developments in the case.

We continued to make inquiries, but did hold off on publishing any of our findings.

Justin’s surviving relatives – represented by his cousin Amy Palmer – have been pursuing justice in this case for decades. Palmer was eight years old when Justin was murdered. As an adult, she founded the “Justice for Justin Lee Turner” Facebook page.

“Our justice system failed a five-year-old boy,” a post on that page Friday noted. “In my opinion, based off the overwhelming evidence, the ones responsible for Justin’s death had the chance to face justice here, but instead chose to stay silent and face the final justice handed out by God for eternity! The truth is there, the justice is not. My fight for Justin will never stop!”

Our Andy Fancher was at the Berkeley County courthouse in the aftermath of Young’s ruling. Stay tuned for additional coverage of this story …

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THE ORDER

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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