April 16, 2009

Road rage murder trial is in jury’s hands

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Jurors will continue this morning deliberating whether a Spokane man was justified for twice shooting another man during a heated dispute in 2007 or whether he should go to prison for murder.

Prosecutors charged Allan L. Turnipseed, 51, with second-degree murder in connection with the June 14, 2007, shooting death of Joshua A. Smith at the intersection of 8th Avenue and Ferrall St., outside Turnipseed’s lower South Hill home.

The trial started last week before Superior Court Judge Greg Sypolt.

Deputy Prosecutor Steve Garvin told jurors in his closing argument Thursday that they should rely more on the forensic evidence, which indicates that Turnipseed pressed a gun against Smith’s back prior to the second shot. Garvin argued that second shot could not be considered self defense.

The shooting was the culmination of two separate encounters in successive days between Turnipseed and Smith, who twice threatened to use a tire iron to assault Turnipseed following shouting matches, according to court testimony.

“At the end of the day … Joshua Smith tried to leave. He put away his tire iron. He told Mr. Turnipseed that he wanted to leave,” Garvin said. “But Mr. Turnipseed took his gun … and shot him not once, but twice. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s murder. That is the intentional killing of another.”

But defense attorney Senit Lutgen said the prosecution relied too heavily on forensic tests and told the jury to discard eyewitness testimony that supported Turnipseed’s contention that he fired only after Smith had struck him with a car.

“Undoubtedly, there are decisions made by both parties that we don’t agree with. It may not have been smart to stand in front of a car driven by a guy who gets that angry. Stupid is not a crime, for that I assure you,” Lutgen said.

He described how on June 14, Smith approached Turnipseed with the tire iron and goaded him to shoot.

“There wouldn’t be a trial if (Turnipseed) shot right then. That’s classic self defense,” Lutgen said. “My biggest fear is the credibility that you give the forensics test, because it is not there. Science is wrong sometimes.”

The prosecution said those tests show that Turnipseed was running alongside Smith’s car and shot him as he tried to drive away. But other witnesses testified that they saw Smith bump into Turnipseed with the car before he peeled out with Turnipseed on the hood.

“They want you to believe a 50-year-old man with an injured knee spun and then runs like an Olympic track star,” Lutgen said. “How did they test that?”

Lutgen asked the jury to consider the fear Turnipseed must have had while he was on the hood of the car.

“There is no way to find this man guilty. You don’t have to like him. But you have to do the right thing,” he said.

Garvin argued that the right thing to do was hold Turnipseed accountable for taking the law into his own hands.

“Mr. Smith is the person who disarmed himself first. He put his weapon back in his car … and was trying to leave. And there was no need to kill him,” Garvin said. “Whatever crimes he may or may not have committed, it was not Mr. Turnipseed’s job or responsibility or legal right to act as judge, jury and executioner on June 14.”

Thomas Clouse can be reached at tomc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5495

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