Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Forensic Toxicology

New Chapter - Rare Weapon

Maurice Glenn Turner
Maurice Glenn Turner

In 1993, Maurice Glenn Turner, a police officer in Cobb County, Georgia, named Julia Lynn Womack the beneficiary on his life insurance policies and retirement account.   Three months later, they were married and she became Lynn Turner.  Not six months later, she started an affair with Randy Thompson, according to Court TV's coverage of the case, apparently leading him to believe that she was divorced.  The encounter with this woman was to prove unfortunate for both men. 

Lynn Turner
Lynn Turner

Glenn Turner, 31, went to the emergency room on March 2, 1995, complaining of flu-like symptoms.  He was treated there and when he felt better, he went home.  The next day, he was dead.  No one could understand how an apparently healthy young man had just suddenly collapsed.  The attending medical examiner, Dr. Brian Frist, decided that he'd died from some complication related to an enlarged heart, a natural cause, and he was buried on March 6.  Lynn collected around $153,000 in death benefits.

Randy Thompson
Randy Thompson

Within days, she leased an apartment for herself and Randy Thompson, who was a sheriff's deputy for Forsyth County in Georgia (and later became a fireman).   She also booked a cruise.  Within five months, they had purchased a home, and by the end of 1995, Thompson had started proceedings to designate Turner as his insurance beneficiary.  A year later, they had a daughter, and in 1998, a son.  Thompson doubled his insurance coverage to $200,000.

The relationship hit the rocks, especially with Turner's extravagant spending habits, so Thompson moved out and Turner went deep into debt.  Thompson continued to see her and one evening early in 2001, after he had dinner with her, history repeated itself.  Thompson, 32, reported to the emergency room complaining of a stomach-ache and constant vomiting.  He was treated and released on January 21.  Lynn made him some Jell-O.  By the next day, he was dead.  The cause of death was listed as an irregular heartbeat, due to clogged arteries.  Lynn received $36,000.

But to the family of Glenn Turner, something seemed wrong.  Glenn's mother saw the newspaper articles about Thompson and sent a letter to Randy's mother to discuss the similarities between what appeared to have occurred with their respective sons.  They brought this to the attention of Dr. Mark Koponen, deputy chief medical examiner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  Noticing calcium oxylate crystals in the man's kidneys during the autopsy, Koponen, who had seen this symptom before in his practice elsewhere, sent several blood and urine samples to the crime lab.  Yet toxicologist Chris Tilson said that the results indicated nothing amiss.  But Koponen was not satisfied, so he sent samples to National Medical Services (NMS), an independent testing lab in Pennsylvania.  Their results proved to be quite different.

Randy Thompson had high levels of a toxin, ethylene glycol, the principle component of antifreeze, in his tissues and blood.  Ingested, it produces slurred speech and a tipsy sensation before moving into severe headaches, nausea, delusions, dizziness, and a feeling of breathlessness.  Death occurs from kidney failure or heart attack.

That substance would not naturally be found in the human body, which meant that Thompson had been exposed to it in large doses or had ingested it.  Six months after he died, his cause of death was changed to antifreeze poisoning.

Dr. Brian Frist
Dr. Brian Frist

Then Dr. Frist, the medical examiner from Glenn Turner's case, ordered his remains to be exhumed and re-examined.   By the fall of 2001, nine months after Thompson had died, Turner's cause of death was also changed to antifreeze poisoning. 

According to the Court TV coverage, which aired the case on television, these deaths were the only two in the state ever attributed to antifreeze ingestion.

On November 1, 2001, a grand jury returned an indictment against Julia Lynn Turner, a 911 dispatcher, for the murder of Glenn Turner, and in May, 2004, after a few delays, she stood trial.

DA Patrick Head assembled a number of damaging witnesses who testified to Lynn's aloofness to Glenn throughout their marriage, her comment that she had only wanted the insurance money, her question to a veterinary nurse about the effects of antifreeze on cats, and her lack of emotion after Turner died.  A friend of Glenn's said that a few months before he expired, he had said that if anything should happen to him to "look at Lynn."

Because it bore such striking similarities to the case in which Turner was charged, Superior Court Judge James Bodiford allowed prosecutors to present facts about Thompson's death as well, though Turner had not been charged with it.   Prosecutors called this evidence a "criminal signature" that linked the two incidents. 

Lynn Turner's defense attorney, Victor Reynolds, insisted that the deaths were not similar and that no evidence linked Turner with the death of her husband.   The entire case was circumstantial.  Reynolds indicated in media interviews that allowing evidence about Thompson's death offered a way to appeal, maintaining that a jury that heard nothing about Thompson's death would likely have a different reaction to the Turner case. 

Yet the state of Georgia does allow such evidence to be admitted.

The key testimony for the prosecution involved forensic toxicologists and medical examiners.  Toxicologist William Dunn at NMS described the tests they had run on both victims, and easily deflected the defense's theory that the toxin found in Turner had come from embalming fluids.  (This idea was further undermined by chemists at the companies that had supplied embalming fluids to the funeral home that embalmed Turner in 1995 when they said their companies did not use substances that contained ethylene glycol.)

Chris Tilson, from the Georgia crime lab, admitted that in his initial tests on the Thompson samples he had made a mathematical miscalculation, which had led him to say that the levels of ethylene glycol found in Thompson's blood were not significant.  Yet even as NMS was testing the samples sent to them, he had run a test on the urine samples and got significant results.  So he had retested the blood and realized his error.

Dr. Kris Sperry
Dr. Kris Sperry

The chief medical examiner at the GBI, Dr. Kris Sperry, told jurors that it seemed likely that Thompson had ingested antifreeze twice, and it was the second dose that ultimately killed him.

Cobb County medical examiner Brian Frist, who had ordered Turner to be exhumed, described the experiments he performed in which he put antifreeze into various food substances such as Jell-O and Gatorade.  In his opinion, the antifreeze could have been introduced without changing the texture, behavior, or color of the food, so Thompson could have consumed it without suspicion.    

In closing arguments, the prosecutor pointed out the there was one clearly common element in both unnatural deaths: Lynn Turner.  "The simplest solution," he said, "is correct."

Each of the arguments the defense submitted had fallen short, as had several witnesses to Lynn Turner's good character.

On the evening of May 14, 2004, after five hours of deliberation, the jury found Turner, 35, guilty of "malice murder" in the death of her husband, Glenn Turner.  She displayed no emotion as she received a sentence of life imprisonment.

A grand jury will meet later in the year to consider the Thompson case.

 

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