Judges rule funding needed before CarQuest murder cases can proceed

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday that his office won’t appeal an appellate court’s postponement of Lee Turner Jr.’s capital murder trial in the 2011 killing of two Baton Rouge auto parts store employees.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal cited a defense funding issue in scrubbing Turner’s scheduled April 28 trial.

The panel ordered state District Judge Richard Anderson to set a new trial date for Turner, who is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

“The evidence reveals that money to fund experts for the defense became available only recently,” Circuit Judges Randolph Parro, John Michael Guidry and Ernest Drake wrote in reversing Anderson’s rejection of a defense motion to delay the trial.

Anderson, who previously pushed back Turner’s trial at the defense’s request from last fall to this spring, recently refused to delay it again, saying he would not allow the Louisiana Public Defender Board to dictate when murder cases go to trial.

Turner’s court-appointed attorneys had argued that the unavailability of board funding for defense experts would not allow them to be ready for an April 28 trial.

“We are happy with the 1st Circuit’s decision. It will give us the necessary time to complete our trial preparation,” said Margaret Lagattuta, one of Turner’s attorneys.

Moore said he doesn’t want the case to have to be tried a second time because of funding issues.

“I want to try this case one time,” he said.

Lagattuta said some of the newly available funding will be used to pay a mental health expert.

She said a new trial date will be selected next week.

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Turner, 23, is convicted.

Turner is accused of fatally shooting Edward Gurtner III, 43, of Denham Springs, and Randy Chaney, 55, of Greenwell Springs, at the CarQuest store on Airline Highway near Siegen Lane on March 27, 2011.

Gurtner managed that store.

Turner worked at CarQuest locations on Government Street and Plank Road. He was hired by the company less than two weeks before the killings.

Anderson ruled last year that evidence — money, Regions Bank bags and CarQuest deposit slips — seized from Turner’s Ritterman Avenue home the day after Gurtner and Chaney were killed, can be introduced at the trial by prosecutors.

He also ruled in 2012 that prosecutors can use Turner’s videotaped statement in which he allegedly confessed to detectives that he shot and killed Gurtner and Chaney.

Turner told detectives his initial motive was to rob the store, but he wound up shooting the men because Gurtner recognized him, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has said.