Suspect Portrayed as Possible Serial Killer
By Gabriel Escobar
An FBI-D.C. police task force is already investigating the suspect, Darryl Donnell Turner, in connection with an unknown number of deaths. But for the first time yesterday, the government openly hinted that the Princeton Place resident is a suspected serial killer, all but confirming a suspicion that for months has haunted residents of the Petworth and Park View neighborhoods in Northwest Washington.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Incontro, who said Turner "poses a serious risk," also revealed in court that a broader case is being considered by a grand jury even as investigators await the results of unspecified forensic tests. "What we are trying very carefully to do is to assess how many cases might be charged to Mr. Turner," Incontro said bluntly.
In laying out the details of its case against Turner, 34, the government portrayed the suspect as a dangerous man who killed one woman and attacked another even after he knew that he was under scrutiny by investigators looking into a series of unexplained deaths in the two neighborhoods dating to November 1996.
The testimony and other details provided yesterday were often graphic, describing how the two women Turner is charged with killing were sexually assaulted, beaten and slowly strangled. The testimony provided a brief glimpse into the demimonde, where women addicted to crack sell their bodies for sex, often in vacant houses, in the process exposing themselves to violence.
In almost a dozen meetings with an angry and frustrated community, police officials never discussed the violent sexual aspects of the assaults or linked Turner's alleged last victim with other deaths that had alarmed the community. Informing residents of a potential danger often conflicts with the need to safeguard details of an ongoing inquiry, but in this case, officials appear to have left themselves open to second-guessing because Turner allegedly raped and choked a former girlfriend in the Capitol Hill area in late January, just days before he was arrested and after he had been questioned twice in connection with the two deaths.
Testimony in court revealed that the former girlfriend said Turner once told her that he preferred violent sex, including strangulation, because he had "trouble achieving sexual enjoyment in any other way."
Turner sat quietly throughout the day-long hearing in D.C. Superior Court, displaying no emotion as defense attorney Laura Rose questioned the credibility of several witnesses and argued that there is no "nexus" between the fact that the women had sex with Turner and their deaths.
Several relatives, including Turner's wife, Barbara, were in attendance but declined to comment. A woman who described herself as Turner's friend, Deborah Minor, said in an interview that she had known him for seven years and had "real doubts about Mr. Turner committing crimes like that."
"I've never known him to take hateful actions," she said. "He was always respecting women."
Family members of some of the victims also were in attendance, and a small group sighed audibly when D.C. Superior Court Judge Nan Shuker ordered Turner held without bond. In elaborating on her ruling, Shuker appeared to give substantial weight to the information provided by Turner's former girlfriend. The judge, paraphrasing what the girlfriend told police, said that during the assault, Turner lashed out at women and said he "was tired of paying you bitches for sex."
Shuker also noted that there was "probable cause" to believe all the women were raped even though no sexual assault charges have been filed in the cases. At the end of the hearing, Shuker cited "more than probable cause" to believe that Turner committed first-degree murder in the strangulation deaths of Jacqueline Teresa Birch, 39, and Dana Hill, 34.
The two women -- the last of what have become known as the Princeton Place murders -- were found strangled and sexually assaulted Nov. 18 and Dec. 1, respectively. Turner was questioned seven days after Birch was killed and ordered to provide a DNA sample after Hill's death, according to Detective Danny Whalen, who spent most of yesterday on the stand. The FBI laboratory said it subsequently matched the sample with semen found on both Birch and Hill, providing the government with its strongest forensic evidence -- Incontro said the chances of another match are 1 in 270 million.
Although yesterday's hearing was limited to the government's case in the Birch and Hill killings, the unsolved deaths of other women with a connection to Princeton Place often loomed in the background. Portions of Whalen's written case file were blacked out by the prosecution because it contained information on those other cases.
Lateashia Blocker, 28, was found dead in May in the same vacant building as Birch, and Emile Dennis, 42, was found in August in a crawl space beneath the building where Turner lived with his wife and stepson. The deaths of Blocker and Dennis initially were attributed to undetermined causes by the medical examiner's office, only to be ruled homicides after Birch was found strangled. The testimony yesterday revealed that the strangulation wounds on Birch and Hill were not obvious and instead required an examination of the layers of muscle, a common, if sometimes challenging, procedure that often requires advanced skills in a medical examiner.
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