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Jury orders death for serial killer Chester Turner in the murders of 11

The former crack cocaine dealer from Los Angeles is to be formally sentenced July 10.

May 16, 2007|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

When Mildred White's 26-year-old daughter was found strangled in 1987, her friend and neighbor Jerri Johnson Tripplett consoled her.

The women bowled together every week, and Tripplett was a huge comfort as White tried to move on with her life -- with the slaying of her daughter, Annette Ernest, unsolved.

In an aching twist six years later, it was Tripplett who needed to rely on their bond. Her daughter, Andrea Lavonne Tripplett, 29, was also found slain.

"When it happened years later to Jerri's daughter, I went over to comfort her," White said by telephone Tuesday. "I told her, 'I've been there, and I know where you're at right now.' And I know that feeling."

On Tuesday, a jury decided that Chester Dewayne Turner, a 40-year-old crack cocaine dealer, should be executed for the deaths of the daughters and eight other women, one of them pregnant. Ernest was the second of the 10 women murdered; Andrea Tripplett the fifth.

Turner became the most prolific serial killer in the city's history when he was convicted of the murders April 30 by the same jury that decided his punishment, with only two choices available: death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He thus joined the roster of the L.A. area's infamous killers: Charles Manson, Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, Freeway Killer William Bonin and the Hillside Strangler.

Turner is to be formally sentenced July 10 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Pounders.

In court Tuesday morning, most jurors kept their eyes fixed on the judge, not on Turner.

He will become the 665th inmate on California's death row. In the last 30 years, the state has executed 13 death-row inmates; 12 have committed suicide.

From 1987 to 1998, Turner raped and strangled his victims, most of them women in South Los Angeles addicted to crack cocaine. He strangled eight with his bare hands. Four of the killings took place within six blocks of Turner's home.

The last two victims died on skid row, after Turner had moved downtown.

Jerri Johnson Tripplett had testified about the agony of living through her daughter's death.

"As a parent, you never think you're going to look down and bury your child," she said. Yet, Tuesday she voiced ambivalence about executing Turner.

"I'm a Christian, and I can't say I want the death penalty for him. I wanted him to live to be a hundred so he could think about this every day," Tripplett said. She and White learned a few years ago that police believed the same man had killed their daughters.

Defense attorney John Tyre said it will cost taxpayers seven times more to execute Turner, including the automatic appeals, than to keep him in prison for life. He said the money could be better spent helping survivors or trying to build up the community where Turner killed.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace said: "I believe the jurors came to fair and just verdicts. You never celebrate the fact that someone will die, but you can take satisfaction that justice is done."

Grace congratulated Cliff Shepard, the Los Angeles Police Department detective whose relentless investigation caught Turner.

The final verdict is that Turner was a "lazy serial murderer," Shepard said.

In one of his last crimes, Turner "just walked out of his apartment, around the corner and killed somebody. It still just floors me."

"He was picking on the most helpless of them all: people who were addicts, people with mental problems," Shepard said. "He assaulted one woman who didn't have the mental ability to testify against him. It was perfect for him."

Nowadays, Turner would have been caught long before he could have killed so many people, Shepard said.

"I think in today's world, with the technology we have, it wouldn't be repeated," he said. "I agree with civil libertarians about privacy. But England is doing this: They're sometimes testing whole towns [for DNA]. I wouldn't mind seeing DNA drawn from children when they're born for identification purposes."

The victims, in the order they died, were Diane Johnson, 21; Annette Ernest, 26; Anita Fishman, 31; Regina Washington, 27, and her fetus; Andrea Tripplett, 29; Desarae Jones, 29; Natalie Price, 31; Mildred Beasley, 45; Paula Vance, 38; and Brenda Bries, 37.

Phyllis Fishman, mother of Anita, said she was happy with the verdict.

"He's off the streets. To me, that's a miracle," she said. "I only wish it had happened 10 years ago, or 20 years ago."

john.spano@latimes.com

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