Suspect’s trial delayed in 2011 murder case

The man accused of killing two employees of a Baton Rouge auto parts store less than two weeks after the company hired him will go to trial next spring, not this fall, a state judge decided Thursday after the defense said it needed more time to prepare.

Lee Turner Jr., 23, was scheduled to stand trial Oct. 28 on two counts of first-degree murder in the 2011 shooting deaths of Edward Gurtner III, 43, of Denham Springs, and Randy Chaney, 55, of Greenwell Springs.

Turner’s new trial date is April 28. The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office intends to seek the death penalty if Turner is found guilty as charged.

Gurtner managed the CarQuest Auto Parts store on Airline Highway near Siegen Lane where he and Chaney were killed March 27, 2011. Turner worked at CarQuest locations on Government Street and Plank Road.

Margaret Lagattuta, one of Turner’s attorneys, told state District Judge Richard Anderson that the defense’s mitigation team needs more time to complete its work.

“They have unearthed so many things that we are still following,” she said.

Prosecutor Tracey Barbera, who noted that Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of the District Attorney’s Office filing its notice of intent to pursue the death penalty, expressed concern about delaying the case.

“My only concern is, when does it stop. How much time is enough?” she told the judge.

Barbera, though, acknowledged she does not want a possible future death penalty overturned because a higher court determined things were not done properly.

“I want justice to be served in this case. I want the victims’ families to have their day in court,” she said. “We all need closure in this case.”

Anderson agreed with Lagattuta that the defense’s mitigation specialist has not been sitting on her hands, and he concurred with Barbera about the importance of trying a capital murder case correctly.

“We do need to get it right the first time,” he said.

Anderson ruled earlier this 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 last year 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, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has said.