48 Hours Mystery: A Killer Defense
"My mother loved horses. She spent a lot of time with them and felt lucky to do so," Richie Turner says of his mother, Jennifer. But, he says, that passion for horses turned into an obsession.
"When we moved out to the ranch, horses really took over her life," he says. "She was out working with the horses all day, feeding, mucking stalls."
Richie could see his parents drifting apart.
"I think the love was still there, but there was no time spent with each other," Richie continues. "The relationship just seemed to go nowhere. It just stood where it was."
Facing life in prison if convicted of murdering his wife, Dr. Kirk Turner makes the bold and risky decision to take the stand to explain the events that led up to that fateful night.
"Jennifer really wanted to raise horses," he says on the stand.
Kirk is questioned by his own high-priced attorney, Joe Cheshire, who earned national attention in 2006, when he defended the wrongfully-accused players in the Duke lacrosse rape case.
Cheshire: Why did you agree to purchase the Jack Boo property and move?
Kirk: Make her happy.
Cheshire: Was that important to you?
Kirk says his desire to make Jennifer happy proved to be the undoing of their marriage.
"I was working and then when I came home I had to work on the barn. It was pretty consuming," he testifies. "We spent no time at all together."
Two years after buying the horse farm, Kirk was lonely. That's when he began spending time with the other woman - the family's former personal banker, Tondja Colvin.
Kirk:We were friends and we started talking more about our marriages and kind of commiserated about how bad our marriages were becoming.
Cheshire: And that relationship became an adulterous relationship at some point?
Kirk: It did. Yes. I'm ashamed to say it did.
Just two weeks after beginning his affair, Kirk told Jennifer he was leaving.
"I knew my marriage had been over a long time," he says in court. "I thought it best to just ask for a separation and move out of the house."
Even though it was Jennifer who filed for divorce, Kirk says she offered to drop the whole matter if he agreed to stay married on some pretty easy terms.
"She'd offered that if I moved back home I could keep Tondja as a girlfriend and see her and even vacation with her," he says.
Kirk turned down Jennifer's unusual offer. But something he said to her would end up becoming a focal point of this case.
Cheshire: Kirk, have you ever said to your wife, "There's more than one way to end a marriage?"
Kirk: I have. She'd asked me if I wanted a divorce. I said, "No, there was more than one way to end a marriage."
Cheshire: And what were you referring to?
Kirk: Separation, as my parents have done.
But Wendy testifies her mother took Kirk's statement as a threat on her life.
Wendy: She knew he carried a knife and a little gun.
Prosecutor Rob Taylor: And did she indicate to you what type of fear that caused in her?
Wendy: Oh, terrible fear. She'd be very shaky and scared. And her eyes would have tears in them.
Then came Sept. 12, 2007, the last day of Jennifer's life. Family friend Greg Smithson called, telling Jennifer he needed to pick up some equipment at the ranch.
"Jennifer to me was a wonderful person. She always treated me real good - never had any problems with her," he tells Peter Van Sant, adding that the Turner children even call him "Uncle Greg."
Smithson asked Jennifer if he could bring Kirk along to help him load up his equipment. Surprisingly, Jennifer put her fears aside and said yes.
"I walked up to the house to get Jennifer and inform her that we were there," Smithson explains.
"When you told her that what was her reaction? That Kirk was there on the property," Van Sant asks.
"She told me, she said it was fine."Jennifer actually helped Smithson and Kirk move some furniture. Then they went to a shed on the property to pick up a welder. Smithson says Jennifer wasn't fearful. But the conversation soon got personal and he got uncomfortable.
"I heard the word sex. And you know, I'm like, "OK, these are just things that I just don't wanna hear," Smithson says.
"But you heard the word?" Van Sant asks.
"Yeah. Sex and reconciliation," Smithson confirms.
Smithson headed out to his truck with the welder, leaving Kirk and Jennifer alone. Kirk says he used the private moment to change the subject to some papers he'd brought with him.
Kirk: I took two documents with me.
Cheshire: What documents did you take?
Kirk: I took - an order that we were going to file with the court to force the sale of the farm. And I took an affidavit from her first husband that spoke of their marriage.
That affidavit claimed that Jennifer's first marriage nearly 25 years earlier had failed because of her obsessive love of horses. Jennifer's ex also alleged that she had been unfaithful.
"I just wanted to show Jennifer that I didn't want this to get ugly and if we had to proceed in court that it wasn't going to be nice for either one of us," Kirk testified.
"I don't think he thought these papers would inflame Jennifer," Cheshire tells Van Sant. "They did inflame her."
Kirk says an enraged Jennifer grabbed a seven-foot-long decorative spear that was leaning against a wall… and took him by surprise.
"I remember turning around and seeing a symmetrical silver thing in my leg," Kirk says on the stand.
Kirk says that 'silver thing' was the tip of the spear.
At 5' 11," and 187 pounds, Jennifer was a strong, athletic woman. Kirk says he defended himself. His knife was just four inches long, but razor sharp.
Cheshire: Do you remember going into your pocket and getting your knife?
Kirk: No. (breathing hard) I remember going like this. (Kirk gestures.)
Cheshire: Do you remember Jennifer falling?
Cheshire: Do you remember standing over her?
Kirk: I remember looking down and seeing her eyes.
Greg Smithson says about two or three minutes had passed since he'd last seen Kirk and Jennifer together. Then he heard a noise.
"I heard Kirk hollering," Smithson recalls. "Just screaming… At several points in time I heard him say that she had attacked. From what I'd seen, he was bleeding."
Smithson ran into the shed to call 911. That's when he made a gruesome discovery.
"I saw Jennifer laying there. I'm so shook up," he testifies. "I couldn't tell if she was alive or not."
The 911 operator instructed Smithson to give Jennifer CPR.
"I went back and forth between the telephone and Jennifer multiple times," he explains on the stand. "I grabbed her nose; I put my hand under her neck and started blowing."
But there was no saving Jennifer. She had nearly been decapitated by Kirk and had bled out. Kirk was hospitalized, going into shock from blood loss and requiring a transfusion. Through it all, Kirk told anyone who would listen that Jennifer attacked him first.
"I would never have killed my wife unless I thought I was gonna die," Kirk testifies.
District Attorney Greg Brown says this is not a case of self defense. "It was a cold-blooded murder."
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