San Diego

No New Trial in 2002 Jahi Turner Murder Case: Judge

Tieray Jones is accused in the April 2002 disappearance and death of his step-son, Jahi Turner, 2, who allegedly vanished from a park in San Diego's Golden Hill area

A San Diego judge has denied a retrial for the man accused in the 2002 disappearance and death of toddler Jahi Turner saying the dismissal is "in the interest of justice."

Judge Joan P. Weber ruled Wednesday that Tieray Jones will not face a jury again. After several weeks of testimony, a mistrial was declared on March 16 in Tieray Jones' case when the jury failed to reach a verdict.

Tieray Jones has maintained his innocence since 2002, when Jahi, only 2 years old, disappeared from a park in Golden Hill.

However, at his trial, prosecutors argued that Tieray Jones either killed the toddler or failed to give him medical treatment after an accident, which led to his death.

On Wednesday, before Weber made her decision, Jahi's mother, Tameka Jones, made an emotional plea to the judge. Via video chat, she begged for the retrial of her ex-husband, Tieray Jones. 

At the hearing, a tearful Tameka Jones explained to the courtroom that her life changed when she got pregnant with Jahi at the age of 15. It changed even more when she tragically lost him.

"He filled my whole heart with love and joy. He was my everything," Tameka Jones told the court Wednesday, fighting to get the words out through tears. 

"I joined the military not because necessarily I wanted to, but because there was something that I had to do for Jahi," she added.

She begged Weber to declare a retrial to ensure her son's voice would be heard. 

"I felt that I had to tell you this because throughout this trial I felt that his voice, his spirit, has been lost by the myriad of lies and deceit from the defense," Tameka Jones said in her Skype call to the courtroom. "This stopped being about what happened to my son."

"This trial has broken me physically, mentally and emotionally but I would do it every day if it meant I would get justice for my son," Tameka Jones told the court Wednesday. "I ask the court to allow the prosecution to seek out the justice to ensure that my son’s voice and spirit is heard, to not allow a man who has had a life of manipulations and lies to get away with the murder of my innocent 2-year-old son."

After listening to Tameka Jones' testimony and arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys, Weber said she needed more time to make a decision and called for a quick lunchtime recess. 

Upon returning to the courtroom, Weber said she had reached a ruling: the motion for retrial was dismissed.

Tieray Jones, bowing his head slightly, was visibly emotional as the judge spoke.

Weber said she’d be “hard-pressed to come up with a more difficult decision” than her ruling on this case.

She said last week’s hung jury clearly fell in the favor of the defendant. On March 16, the jury foreperson told Weber the jury was split 2-10, the majority deciding Jones was not guilty of second-degree murder.

Weber asked the foreperson if there was anything she could do to help the jury reach a unanimous decision. The foreperson said no. Weber said the jury was "hopelessly deadlocked" and a mistrial was declared.

When his trial began, Tieray Jones faced a felony abuse charge and one count of second-degree murder. Two weeks into the trial, Weber granted the defense's request to dismiss the first charge. 

Weber told the prosecution team she has long harbored doubts about the felony child abuse count.

San Diego police have searched for years for Jahi's body, including a week-long search of the Miramar Landfill, where authorities took the extreme measure of systematically raking through 5,000 tons of garbage following the boy's disappearance.

Police always suspected Tieray Jones in the child's death but it took them 14 years to get the evidence needed to charge him with murder.

Entries in Tieray Jones' journal -- evidence presented during the trial -- described how Jahi had fallen in the bedroom and hit his head.

However, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office admitted at the start of the trial that since the toddler's body has never been found, there is little direct evidence linking Tieray Jones to the toddler's murder. Instead, prosecutors relied on circumstantial evidence throughout the trial. 

The defense denied the prosecution's theory that Tieray Jones panicked, dumped Jahi's body in the trash, and made up a story that the tot disappeared from a playground.

In the trial's final days, jurors heard directly from the defendant who took the stand and testified he would never harm his stepson, whom he loved like his own children.

Tieray Jones told the jury during the trial that he refused a plea deal because he couldn't admit to a crime he didn't commit. He said he could have pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter but didn't "because I didn’t do anything to hurt our son."

Prosecutor Bill Mitchell strongly denied that the District Attorney's office ever offered such a deal, and pointedly said Tieray Jones was misleading the jury.

Jahi's mother followed Tieray Jones' testimony and told the court that she believed his alibi for more than a decade but eventually came to terms with his alleged dishonesty.

"My life has been all about my son," Tameka Jones told the jury. "I built my sanity and my life around my son coming home. Do you know how hard it is to know that that's not happening?"

Tameka Jones choked up as she told the jury how she felt when she realized that her ex-husband had allegedly lied to her for more than a decade about what really happened to Jahi.

Prosecutor Nicole Rooney told the jury, Tieray Jones' story that he turned his back and didn't see the toddler for a few minutes was a lie. She reminded jurors that Tieray Jones admitted he misled police when they questioned him about Jahi's disappearance.

Tieray Jones said during the trial that in the years after Jahi disappeared, there was much discussion and many rumors about what happened to Jahi, in the Maryland neighborhood where Tieray Jones and Tameka Jones lived, and where Jahi was born.

Tieray Jones said he had to leave Maryland for North Carolina "because there was a bounty for my death," by people in his old neighborhood who thought he had killed Jahi.

He was eventually arrested for Jahi’s murder in North Carolina 2016 and returned to San Diego to stand trial.

Following the dismissal decision, Tieray Jones’ defense attorney, Courtney Cutter, told reporters her client was “very emotional and sad,” and “heartbroken over this whole thing.”

Cutter confirmed Tieray Jones would be released from jail as quickly as possible, likely Wednesday afternoon or night.

Weber said Wednesday that there was no particularly strong evidence presented against Tieray Jones and at least four theories of what may have happened to Jahi. She said there’s no way a jury could rule out any of the four options, including that Jahi may have been kidnapped.

Since the District Attorney's Office waited 14 years to bring the case to trial, Weber also said the memories of the witnesses were tested, also a factor in the defendant’s favor.

She said it’s unlikely that any new witnesses could come forth to contradict Tieray Jones’ kidnapping story.

Weber also said the lack of a body to examine in this case, paired with the delay to bring the case to trial, means we’ll likely never know the answer as to what happened to Jahi.

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