On July 12, 2000, 23-year-old Chanda Turner was shot to death at her home in Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma. Her boyfriend claimed she shot herself while he slept through the sound of gunfire, and then found her outside on the back steps after she was dead. Crime scene photos depicted blood throughout the inside of the home, including on the mattress the boyfriend claimed he was asleep on. The mattress had been stripped of sheets. There were more signs of clean-up in the bedroom, including a bottle of cleaning solution on the floor. The boyfriend had fresh scratches on his arms, and Chanda was covered in bruises. There were signs of a struggle in the living room, including broken furniture.
Despite all these red flags that Chanda did not commit suicide, but actually fought for her life, a Medical Examiner Investigator went to the scene and, without an autopsy having been performed, effectively closed the case by classifying the death a suicide.
The repeated requests of the Turner family for an autopsy were denied for almost 10 years. Knowing they would never give up fighting to get justice for their daughter, her parents buried her in a sealed casket inside a sealed crypt to preserve her body for the day when they could finally get an autopsy.
That day came in December 2009. The family finally got a Court Order which resulted in an exhumation autopsy. The two pathologists who performed the autopsy – then-Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Collie Trant, and Colorado Springs Coroner, Dr. Robert Bux – ruled the death a homicide.
In another case, on October 28, 2009, 27-year-old Katrina Rivera-Hill died in small-town Tuttle inGrady County,Oklahoma, after spending nine days in a coma. Katrina had supposedly intentionally jumped from a moving vehicle, causing her own fatal injuries. This information was provided to the police by the only witness to the incident. He was the driver of the car and Katrina’s ex-boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence against her.
The Tuttle police took his word that on October 19th, Katrina was in a suicidal state and jumped from his moving car. They forwarded their report to the Medical Examiner’s Office where, without further investigation, Katrina’s death was ruled a suicide.
Katrina’s family was incensed. After a few months of dealing with the Tuttle police, the family got the Highway Patrol involved with the help of the Grady County District Attorney. After their investigation, the HP issued a 300 page report that concluded Katrina’s death was a homicide. In spite of this new information, the ME refused to change the manner of death.
But the families of Chanda and Katrina weren’t the only ones who believed they had been wronged by the system. Joining forces, the families launched a campaign to resolve the issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office. Their efforts resulted in the Chanda Turner Reform Act.
With us to explain how the fight was waged and won will be Chanda’s parents, Joe and Donna Turner, Katrina’s mother and step-father, Sam and Michele Speziale, and attorney Jaye Mendros.
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