The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly. This information; however, is subject to change and may not reflect the latest status of an inmate’s case and should not be relied upon for statistical or legal purposes.
Turner, James D. (W/M)
7th Judicial Circuit, St. Johns County Case # 05-01954-CF
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Wendy W. Berger
Attorney, Trial: James R. Valerino – Public Defender’s Office
Attorney, Direct Appeal: George D. E. Burden – Public Defender’s Office
Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Christopher S. Quarles – Federal
Date of Offense: 09/30/05
Date of Sentence: 04/24/08
Circumstances of Offense:
James Daniel Turner had been in jail in Newberry County, South Carolina, on a violation of probation charge. The sheriff’s office assigned him to work on various tasks. He was considered trustworthy, which gave him special privileges such as unrestricted access to most of the sheriff’s office and keys to vehicles in their parking lots. On 09/28/05, Turner escaped from the Newberry County Jail in a stolen Newberry County Office Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV). The SUV was found the next day in a parking lot in St. Johns County, Florida, by local employees. Turner had left his identification card and crack cocaine in the vehicle.
On the morning of 09/30/05, Turner was spotted by two guests and several housekeepers at the Comfort Inn in St. Augustine. He had passed by Renee Howard, her four children, granddaughter, and Stacia Raybon, when on they were on their way to breakfast at the motel. After breakfast, Howard drove her son to work and daughter to school. Two of the other children joined her in the truck. When Howard returned to the motel, Raybon came downstairs to help her with the children. She saw Turner standing outside their room on her way down. Howard, Raybon, and the three children returned to the motel room to prepare for checking out.
Raybon was preparing bottles for the children when Turner entered their room. He struck Howard first and then attacked Raybon by stabbing her in the elbow. Turner saw Howard move back towards the door entrance. Meanwhile, Raybon grabbed her purse and locked herself in the bathroom. Raybon heard hitting noises and children screaming outside the bathroom. Turner tried to enter the bathroom several times. Raybon asked him to give her one of the kids. He demanded money, so Raybon gave him several credit cards. Turner allowed one of the children to enter the bathroom with Raybon. She pleaded with Turner to not hurt her or the children. He told her to wait 10 minutes before leaving the room. Turner left one minute later, and Raybon came out of the bathroom to find Howard dead. The pathologist who conducted the autopsy concluded that Howard died due to shock and blood loss from 15 stab wounds.
Raybon attempted to call 911 from the hotel room, but was unable to connect. One of the housekeepers allowed Raybon to use her cell phone. When the police arrived, Raybon provided a description of Turner and Howard’s truck, which was now missing.
Deputy Graham T. Harris spotted the truck, with Turner driving it, five miles away from the Comfort Inn. He approached the truck and turned on his flashing lights, but the truck went in reverse, rear-ending the front end of Harris’s patrol car. Turner pulled away from Harris’s car, but then began to hit the driver’s side. Harris accelerated in an attempt to escape, but Turner continued to hit him from behind. Eventually, the truck hit a guard rail on the Deep Creek Bridge. Turner exited the truck and jumped off of the bridge into the creek below.
Multiple deputies arrived at the bridge, bringing a search canine with them. The dog found Turner in the creek. Turner would not comply with the deputies’ commands to surrender; so, the canine was ordered to attack Turner. Turner attempted to drown the dog, but eventually surrendered.
10/19/05 Indicted as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder
Count III: Grand Theft (Motor Vehicle)
Count IV: Home-Invasion Robbery
Count V: Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer
11/29/07 Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment
12/05/07 Jury recommended death by a vote of 10-2
04/24/08 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder – 30 years
Count III: Grand Theft (Motor Vehicle) – 5 years
Count IV: Home-Invasion Robbery – Life in Prison
Count V: Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer – 15 years
Florida Supreme Court – Direct Appeal
05/27/08 Appeal filed
12/09/09 Oral arguments held
05/20/10 FSC affirmed convictions and sentences
06/10/10 Mandate issued
United States Supreme Court – Petition for Writ of Certiorari
131 S.Ct. 426
08/20/10 Petition filed
10/18/10 Petition denied
On 05/27/08, Turner filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court. He made the following claims: (1) double jeopardy; (2) cold, calculated premeditation aggravator; (3) death penalty is disproportionate; (4) Ring v. Arizona; and (5) sufficiency of evidence. Oral arguments were held on 12/09/09. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Turner’s convictions and sentences on 05/20/10. A mandate was issued on 06/10/10.
Turner filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on 08/20/10. This petition was denied on 10/18/10.
Report Date: 06/14/10 EMJ
Approved: 06/18/10 RM
Updated: 04/12/11 EMJ