April 4, 2009

Murder trial set to begin Monday

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A dispute that began with a beer can tossed from a car window ended the next day with the death of a Spokane man from two bullets to the chest.

The gunman, Allan L. Turnipseed, now 51, claimed self defense in the June 2007 attack, and it was more than nine months before a second-degree murder charge was filed against him.

Now a jury of 12 will decide whether to convict or acquit Turnipseed. Jury selection begins Monday in front of Judge Greg Sypolt for a case involving two cars, a complicated crime scene and a fight between men more than 25 years apart in age, one armed with a tire iron, the other, a .380 Colt pistol.

Joshua A. Smith, 24, first encountered Turnipseed as he drove on Eighth Avenue, past Turnipseed’s Freya Street home on June 13, 2007, after dropping off a co-worker at a nearby house, according to a police report.

A passenger in Smith’s Mazda 626, Renato M. Alps, tossed a beer can into a trashed-filled trailer across the street from the home, and Turnipseed yelled at him, igniting a profanity-laced exchange between he and Smith, police say.

Turnipseed, who is free on $100,000 bond, went inside to call 911 after Smith got out of his Mazda and went to the trunk, and the confrontation ended. But the two saw each other again the next day, triggering the fight that ended Smith’s life.

But was it an act of self defense as Turnipseed’s lawyer, Senit Lutgen, is expected to argue? Or a malicious killing by a man who made a series of bad choices that ended a young man’s life, as Spokane police Detective Kip Hollenbeck concluded and Deputy Prosecutor Stephen Garvin is expected to argue?

Neither attorney would comment for this article, but forensic evidence involving the fatal altercation – Turnipseed said Smith was trying to run him over before he fired the shots – as well as statements from witnesses with no link to either man could play a big role for each, court papers suggest.

“Turnipseed said he was pitched forward and then rolled over the front driver’s side fender and shot into the drivers side area of the vehicle,” according to a statements of facts by Hollenbeck filed in Superior Court March 19, 2008. “He said that as he was still on the vehicle, he shot through the windshield or into the opened drivers side window.”

Hollenbeck’s report notes a lack of forensic evidence to support Turnipseed’s contention that Smith was trying to run him over.

Turnipseed’s actions before the shooting will also be in question. Police papers show he used his car to block Smith from turning eastbound onto Eighth Avenue from Ferrall Street; he told police that, sensing trouble, he’d wanted to stop Smith from driving past his home.

But police said that action led to a confrontation with Smith, who pulled alongside Turnipseed’s car and “got smart, argumentative and threatened me,” Turnipseed told police.

Smith got out of his car and grabbed a tire iron from his car as Turnipseed pulled out his pistol and said he was under “citizen’s arrest.”

Within minutes, Smith was dead.

Smith’s passenger, Cameron Hollinger, told police Smith had said to Turnipseed he was leaving and tried driving away before being shot.

“The car rolled forward several feet and Smith started screaming, “I’m shot! I’m shot! Call 911. That guy shot me,” according to the report.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.

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