Stepfather arrested in Jahi Turner cold case

Posted at 12:31 PM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-19 09:11:06-04

SAN DIEGO - A man was arrested Monday in North Carolina on suspicion of killing his toddler stepson, who was reported missing from a Balboa Park-area playground 14 years ago and whose body has never been found.

Tieray Dawayne Jones, 37, was taken into custody in Rocky Mount, N.C., on suspicion of killing 2-year-old Jahi Turner, San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced at an afternoon briefing at downtown SDPD headquarters.

Jones is scheduled for a hearing in a North Carolina court Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific time on charges of murder and child abuse causing death. If he agrees not to fight extradition, he will be brought to San Diego within 30 days to stand trial, officials said.

Authorities declined to disclose what led to the belated arrest in the high-profile case, which had proved so devoid of developments that it began to seem like one that might never be solved.

Dumanis told reporters she hadn't been sure over the years that "this day would ever come," describing the longtime unsolved case as one that "weighed heavily on all our hearts."

"Jahi's disappearance rocked the community to its core 14 years ago," she said.

The suspect reported the youngster missing on April 25, 2002. At the time, he lived in a Golden Hill apartment with Jahi and the child's 18-year-old mother, Navy sailor Tameka Jones.

The stepfather told police he had brought Jahi to a park at Cedar and 28th streets, left him with a woman and several other children to get a soda from a nearby vending machine and returned to find them all gone.

Authorities at the time declined to comment on news reports that Jahi had not been to that playground at all that day and Jones had failed a lie-detector test.

The boy's disappearance prompted weeks of intensive searches of canyons, fields and neighborhoods in the area, as well as a grueling weeklong sweep of the Miramar Landfill. The efforts turned up no evidence regarding what had become of Jahi, who soon became considered a likely homicide victim.

The couple moved back to Maryland in 2003, and in 2006 Jones pleaded guilty to an unrelated assault charge for a barrage of gunfire in Frederick in 2004 that missed the targeted man. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

In an earlier case, Jones had been scheduled to stand trial for second-degree murder stemming from the fatal shooting of a 27-year-old man in Frederick on Aug. 30, 2000. Instead, the state dropped the charges, citing the disappearance or changed statements of nearly a dozen prosecution witnesses.

Though the investigation into Jahi's suspected murder ultimately stalled, authorities remained committed to solving the case one day, Dumanis told reporters.

"We never gave up on finding justice for Jahi," she said.

About two years ago, a new team of investigators began developing fresh leads in the case, Zimmerman said.

Throughout the last 14 years, detectives were intent on recovering the child's body as well as finding his killer, police Capt. David Nisleit told reporters.

"And that is still one of our goals, to find Jahi," Nisleit said.

In 2013, a private investigator told 10News he believed Jahi's body was placed in the Otay Landfill: