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Megan Renee Turner, Victor Lee Turner, and Justin Turner (Berkeley County Sheriff's Office)

Murder charges dropped against parents in death of 5-year-old boy found stuffed in camper cabinet

Megan Renee Turner, Victor Lee Turner, and Justin Turner (Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office)

The case against a father and stepmother in South Carolina charged in the decades-old murder of their 5-year-old son has been dismissed by a judge who reasoned that the case due to several factors stemming from the many years that have passed since the boy’s death.

Judge Roger M. Young Sr. on Friday formally dismissed the murder charges against Victor and Megan Turner for the 1989 slaying of young Justin Turner.

The case was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning prosecutors cannot bring the same charges against the Turners again in the future.

According to court documents obtained by Charleston NBC and CW affiliate WCBD, Young reasoned that the 35-year delay in bringing the charges against the parents, combined with law enforcement’s lack of new evidence, violated the Turners’ constitutionally protected right to a fair trial.

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    “The court further finds that the prejudice to the defendants far outweighs any reason for the delay — reasons the State of South Carolina has failed to identify in this case,” Young wrote in the ruling.

    Notably, the court reportedly did not find any fault with the manner in which prosecutors and police pursued the case, but emphasized the uncommon set of circumstances surrounding Justin Turner’s death.

    Despite the outcome, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson released a statement commending Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis and his office as well as Judge Young. She said, in part:

    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.

    Sheriff Lewis similarly thanked the solicitor’s office and said that while it was “not the outcome we were seeking,” his office understood ‘the technicality” of prosecuting crimes that occurred decades earlier.

    As previously reported by Law&Crime, authorities believe that Justin on March 3, 1989, left his home at about 11 a.m. and was on his way to a friend’s house to catch the bus for school when he vanished. Megan Turner, who at the time went by the name Pamela Turner, told authorities that she did not feel well that day so she remained at the house and did not accompany her stepson to the bus as she normally did.

    “That afternoon when Pamela Turner went to meet the school bus she found that Justin was not on it nor had he been at school that day,” the sheriff’s office wrote in a previous news release. “The neighbor whom Justin was supposed to meet that morning had gone outside with her grandson to meet the bus but never saw Justin that morning.”

    It was later revealed that Justin never made it to the bus stop that morning and was absent from school.

    A multiagency search of the surrounding area, which included civilian volunteers, went on for two days before Victor Turner found the boy’s dead body “in a cabinet located in a camper in the yard of the residence.” A subsequent autopsy determined that Justin’s manner of death was a homicide and the cause of death was ligature strangulation. Authorities also said that he had been sexually assaulted with some kind of cylindrical object.

    Authorities said that both of the Turners exhibited “deliberate actions and obvious behavior” indicating they “knew exactly” where Justin’s body had been hidden. Documents also detailed Victor Turner’s demeanor after he located his son’s body.

    “Rather than react to finding his son and personally checking for any indication of life whatsoever, (Victor Turner) instead backed out of the camper commenting, ‘He’s in there, my son is in there. Somebody’s hurt him,’” a warrant reportedly states. “(Victor Turner) later told investigators, ‘He looked dead. I could feel that something was wrong with him. I did NOT touch him.’”

    Victor Turner also allegedly made inculpatory statements prior to the discovery of the body, such as asking authorities what would happen if a family member had “done harm to the victim, such as killed him.”

    “Within this transparent question, an apparent awareness of (Justin’s) fate was revealed prior to the discovery of (Justin’s) body,” authorities wrote.

    About nine months after the body was discovered, Justin’s stepmother was indicted by a grand jury and charged with his murder. However, prosecutors later dropped those charges due to insufficient evidence.

    The sheriff’s office said that its Cold Case Unit reopened the case in 2021 and began reevaluating evidence utilizing new technology that was not available at the time of Justin’s murder.

    “We have a lot of forensic evidence. We got here because of new technology and forensic medicine,” Sheriff Duane Lewis said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. “We all know how things have progressed over the years and we kept pushing and plugging and pulling to finally get what we needed to make an arrest.”

    Lewis, who at one point said, “I can’t think of a more tragic, horrendous murder,” also told reporters that the Turners haven’t taken much of an interest in their son’s death, moving away and cutting off communication with the community.

    “Isn’t that strange? I never got one phone call, one phone call from his daddy or stepmother (saying) ‘What are y’all doing about my son’s death?’ Not one,” Lewis said. “What does that tell you?”

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