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Murder conviction upheld for man in Clairemont shooting death

Justice delayed: Virus crisis upends courts system across US
Posted at 1:49 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 16:49:27-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A state appeals court panel Wednesday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a man who shot an acquaintance outside the victim's Clairemont home.

Jeffrey Alan Turner was sentenced to 81 years to life in state prison for the Jan. 3, 2018, slaying of 52-year-old Frank "Pancho" Magana, who was shot in the head while exiting the front door of his home in the 4600 block of Sauk Avenue.

Officers found Magana on the ground in front of his residence. He died at a hospital 13 days later.

Turner and Magana knew each other through mutual friends, but no concrete motive for the shooting was provided by the prosecution.

Deputy District Attorney Kristie Nikoletich told jurors that a friend of Magana's was at the home and heard someone approach the victim and say "It's J.T." several times just before the shooting.

The witness said Magana appeared annoyed when "J.T." showed up at his home, indicating they likely knew each other, according to the prosecutor. Magana's friend did not see the shooter but later informed police she knew the defendant and believed he was "J.T.," Nikoletich said.

On appeal, Turner's attorney contended that the jury was not properly instructed on how to assess that witness' testimony, as they were told to consider a witness' level of certainty while testifying, rather than the accuracy of their testimony. Turner's attorney noted that she only alleged to have heard his voice and did not see him, and also alleged she was an unreliable witness due to being a longtime heroin addict.

In its opinion, a three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled it was up to the jury to weigh the witness' reliability. The panel also held that other circumstantial evidence in the case weighed against Turner and that the verdict would likely not have changed even if the jury had been instructed differently.

Police searched a home where Turner was staying, turning up a revolver that was matched to the splintered pieces of a bullet found in the victim and at the shooting scene, the prosecutor said. She also said that both Turner and Magana's DNA were found on the gun.

Surveillance footage taken from the home where Turner was staying showed him celebrating outside the residence hours after the shooting, Nikoletich said. She said the footage showed Turner making speeches to someone off-camera and mimicking bowling strikes.

Turner's attorney, John O'Connell, told jurors that Magana repeated the name "Elijah" to officers when they inquired about the shooter.

O'Connell told the jury that the prosecution "is going to ask you not to believe the victim, who had no reason to lie," and alleged that the prosecution's ballistics evidence matching the revolver to the bullet was "bad science."

He also alleged Magana's DNA on the revolver was not the result of "blowback" as the prosecution maintained, but rather contamination from investigators, who he claimed inadvertently transferred Magana's DNA from the shooting scene to the gun. Further, he said the victim's DNA did not come from blood, as one would expect, and that it was found on a part of the gun that made no sense in relation to the shooting.