Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato - Hollywood Homicide


Two days after the homicide, Los Angeles County District Attorney William B. McKesson held a press conference and made it clear the case would receive no special treatment simply because Lana Turner was involved. Cheryl, who had been held overnight in the Beverly Hills jail, was taken to the county Juvenile Hall until the matter was concluded. There was still no talk of criminal charges, and Cheryl was not being held as a suspect but as a material witness and adjudicated juvenile.

Easter came and went and on Monday morning Cheryl was brought before a probate judge for a predetention hearing. All sides were permitted to address the court. Geisler told the judge that he could prove Stompanato's death was justifiable homicide, and asked that Cheryl be released to her grandmother's custody.

"Let's go to trial," said Beverly Hills Police Chief William Anderson. "I am satisfied that Stompanato was killed with a knife and we have the party who did it."

McKesson recommended that Cheryl not be released on bail. He was afraid that the mob or Lana Turner would pressure Cheryl one way or another. The judge agreed and ordered Cheryl detained.

He further ordered, against the will of the police and the DA, a coroner's inquest to determine whether a crime had indeed been committed. In a coroner's inquest, a jury selected by the coroner examines the circumstances surrounding a suspicious death and renders a verdict. The verdict may identify the person responsible for a death or assign blame to negligent parties. In addition, juries may recommend further investigation and assign blame to negligent parties.

Unlike a grand jury indictment, a coroner's inquest verdict is not binding and law enforcement officials may still charge, or not charge, depending on their preference. Still, it is helpful to law enforcement because it formally establishes cause of death and any elements of the crime. It gives prosecutors a chance to see how evidence influences jurors.

A week after the homicide the coroner convened the inquest. Geisler had managed to get Cheryl excused from testifying because of the trauma she had already been through. Although some policemen were called to testify, there was only one witness that mattered: Lana, the only person who saw Cheryl stab Johnny.

Never before had she had to perform under this much pressure. Some 20 years since she was discovered on Sunset Boulevard, Lana Turner was about to take center stage in her most dramatic and important role ever. This time she wasn't playing for the Academy. At stake was her daughter's life.



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