By Bill Robinson
Mitchell Ray Turner was scheduled to go on trial for murder Monday morning, but early Friday evening he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. The state recommended a sentence of 15 years.
Because first-degree manslaughter is a violent offense, Turner will have to serve at least 80 percent of his sentence. Madison Circuit Judge Jean C. Logue scheduled sentencing for Nov. 8 at 1:30 p.m.
He already has served nearly two years in the Madison County Detention Center, which means he could be released after serving about another 10 years and 9 months.
Two years ago Oct. 5, Turner, 43, was charged in the beating death of a drinking buddy, Gary Deaton, 53.
Deaton’s body was found the night before on Liza Allen Road in the Red Lick area, according to police reports.
When questioned by Logue, Turner said he believed the state could have found him guilty of the charge to which he was pleading guilty.
He told the judge he and Deaton had been drinking moonshine and then got into an argument that “went too far.” However, Turner claimed he could not remember how Deaton had died.
Deaton died of blunt force trauma to the head, trunk and extremities and had an open skull fracture, according to the medical examiner’s report. The victim also suffered from “sharp force trauma," it stated.
As Logue asked Turner a series of questions to determine if he understood the consequences of pleading guilty to the reduced charge of manslaughter instead of having a jury hear the murder charge, the deep-voiced man intoned affirmative replies.
When Logue asked Turner if he had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, he said he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He had undergone two psychiatric evaluations, one by a state psychiatrist and another called by the defense.
In 2006, Turner survived an attack in which Margaret Faye Jack was shot to death at her Big Hill mobile home. Turner was shot several times, then stabbed, as two men looted the trailer.
Tony Clayton Hodge and Douglas Wayne Hall were convicted in the attack. Hodge received a life sentence, while Hall is serving a 45-year sentence.
A conviction of first-degree manslaughter was among the potential verdicts Turner’s attorney Brian Barker said he would have argued for if the case had gone to trial.
Other potential verdicts the defense would have wanted the jury to consider included guilty but mentally ill, murder under extreme emotional distress and second-degree manslaughter.
After Logue adjourned the hastily called proceeding, Turner hugged relatives who had sat behind him in the mostly empty courtroom. He wiped his eyes before turning to leave for the detention center.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 624-6690.