Let us travel back in time 11 months to August 2014, when Deputy District Attorney Stephen Cornwell objected to the one year jail sentence Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald gave to Jaqwun Laerin Turner, because the Hawthorne truck driver played a role in the death of a 51-year-old lady on the 22 freeway in Santa Ana. Martha Rodezno either fell, jumped or was pushed out of the cab of the petroleum tanker truck Turner was driving (Cornwell, who argued for prison time, could not prove which). While Turner continued on without stopping to render aid, Hizzoner reckoned Rodezno would have still died anyway.
Fitzgerald probably wishes he could pull that one back now.
That's because DNA evidence has now linked Turner to a cold case rape and murder of a woman in South Los Angeles in 2004.
Rodenzo had come from her home in Los Angeles to a family party in Mission Viejo, where she walked out angry around midnight Dec. 8, 2013, and was last seen on foot in the area of Avery Parkway and the 5 freeway.
Surveillance video would show the mother of three got into Turner's truck near Avery and the 5, and a witness saw the same truck heading north on the 22 as her body was ejected from the passenger side and the truck kept on going. Another motorist found the corpse on the 5 freeway's northbound transition ramp to the westbound 22 around 2:45 a.m.
Investigators eventually tracked the tanker truck to a company, discovered Turner was the driver and arrested him on Jan. 29, 2014.
It was not known whether Rodenzo had jumped out of a vehicle or, as Cornwell had theorized during the trial, she was pushed. Errol Cook, Turner's attorney, claimed Rodenzo opened the passenger side door and fell out as his client tried to slow down, and that the driver was "shocked, fearful and pretty much panicked." But Cornwell noted the only witness to what went on inside the cab was Turner, and that in any event he just left her alone on the road to die.
Cook claimed his client was "very remorseful for what happened and has expressed his condolences to [Rodenzo's] son." Perhaps that got to Fitzgerald, who cut a deal with the defendant that had him pleading guilty to felony hit-and-run in exchange for a sentence of a year in county jail and five years probation. As for what Cornwell felt was a lenient sentence, Cook noted Turner also lost his commercial driver's license for a year and that the DMV could impose more sanctions.
Turner lost something else shortly after his arrest by Santa Ana cops: a sample of his DNA. The California Department of Justice recently informed the Los Angeles Police Department it got a match between Turner's DNA profile and the DNA profile obtained from an alley in the 10600 block of South Manhattan Place on April 10, 2004, when the body of 38-year-old Leah Deshay Benjamin was found wrapped in a blanket.
Investigators at the time determined Benjamin had been raped and murdered via blunt force trauma to the head. Following the DNA match, homicide detectives learned that Turner had lived close to where Benjamin's body was discovered, according to the LAPD.
He pleaded not guilty at arraignment to one count each of murder and rape, and a special circumstances allegation of murder during the commission of a rape could have Turner facing the death penalty, although LA prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek it.
In the meantime, Turner is being held without bail–and probably hoping he'll find a judge like Fitzgerald who will do him a solid.