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Police testimony: Teens conspired to 'get rid of' 14-year-old girl who was messaging them

By McKenzie Romero  |  Posted Mar 21st, 2017 @ 11:43pm


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SMITHFIELD — Propped up in her hospital bed, 14-year-old Deserae Turner can barely be seen, a tiny figure lost in pillows, blankets and tubes.

Her long curly hair has been cut off, and medical devices in the room interrupt regularly as Smithfield police detective Brandon Muir asks her if she remembers what happened before she woke up in Primary Children's Hospital.

In police video shown in court Tuesday of her March 10 interview, Deserae's voice could barely be heard. She remembered that almost a month before, on Feb. 16, she had gone to meet her 16-year-old friend at a canal where they had hung out before near Smithfield's Sky View High School.

He had asked her to come, she told the officer, the trail was muddy, and the boy's friend had unexpectedly been there, too.

Muir testified that following that interview, Deserae had been told she could ask the officer questions. She had already been told she had been shot, but now, Muir said, "She asked who did it, and why."

After consulting the young girl's therapist, it was decided Deserae's father would tell her that her friend, the suspected triggerman, and the boy he was with that day, are both accused of attempting to kill her.

"She said she was surprised, she had a look of shock on her face," Muir testified.

Watching her eyes, the detective said he could tell Deserae "was trying to sort out how that even happened."

Muir also described Deserae's injuries, including presenting a scan that shows just where the bullet still remains today, pressed up against the front of the girl's skull.

"She could possibly have that bullet in her head for the rest of her life," Muir explained.

The narrative surrounding Deserae's shooting unfolded in a preliminary hearing for the alleged teen gunman Tuesday, where prosecutors presented evidence to show there was probable cause a crime was committed. First District Juvenile Judge Angela Fonnesbeck bound the case over for trial.

An additional evidentiary hearing will be held May 8-9 to determine whether the case will remain in juvenile court or move to district court where the teen would face the charges against him as an adult.

The other 16-year-old charged with shooting Deserae faces his own preliminary hearing Wednesday.

The two teens are both accused of attempted aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; and four counts of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.

In Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors said the boys had put together a premeditated murder plot targeting Deserae. Together they lured the younger girl to join them after school under the guise of buying a knife, then shot her once in the back of the head at close range, stole her belongings and left her in a dry section of the dirty canal.

Prosecutors said the teens planned to kill Deserae by slitting her throat or, as a backup, by shooting her in the head.

KSL has chosen not to identify the teens at this time.

According to a statement the alleged gunman gave to police, the boys were playing video games one day when one said he would like to "get rid of" 14-year-old Deserae, who was sending him messages on social media.

"I just didn't want anything to do with Snapchatting her anymore," the boy wrote in his statement, which was read aloud by police.

His friend replied, "Well you've got a 6-inch blade, why don't you do it yourself?" according to the statement.

At first the alleged gunman said he thought this was just another "crude joke" by his friend, but the boys continued to talk, and a plan formed.

The teen said he suggested using his brother's gun, which he knew was hidden under a mattress, but "he said it would be quieter to use knives and made up the plan that we're going to slit her throat using my two knives," the boy said in his statement.

The teen also wrote that his friend had instructed him that, once they had Deserae in place, he gave him a certain look indicating it was time to kill her.

"He gave me the look and I did it," the teen wrote.

Testimony from Cache County sheriff's deputy Brian Groves, who interviewed the alleged teen gunman, lasted much of the morning Tuesday.

The boy insisted early on he knew Deserae but hadn't talked to her for weeks or months, Groves said. The boy also didn't know his own cellphone number, and he didn't want officers looking at his phone because he "liked his privacy," the deputy said. The teen also told him he regularly deleted his text conversations.

From the beginning of the conversation, Groves said he noticed the way the boy gripped his hands tightly together, how his lip occasionally quivered and how it seemed his mouth was dry.

"I found this to be very suspicious behavior. He seemed to be under a lot of stress," he said.

Groves then told the teen that Deserae, who was actually in critical condition at the hospital, had died.

"His body jerked. Immediately he started to cry," he said.

Groves explained later in his testimony he had used the words "dead" and "canal" as "trigger words," then carefully observed the teen's body language.

The teen's attorney, David Perry, described the tactic as "interrogation."

From there, the teen's involvement and eventually the alleged participation of his friend continued to unfold in a series of interviews over the next several days, according to Groves' testimony.

The teen told Groves he and his friend had been playing video games when a plan to kill Deserae began. He also said he had met the girl at the canal about a week earlier intending to slit her throat but didn't go through with it. When they met the second time, they brought the gun the boy had taken from under his brother's mattress as "back up," the deputy said.

The teen told Groves that, in order to get Deserae to turn her back to him and head back down the trail, he told her he would give her a ride home.

"He said it was the most merciful way, that was the statement he gave me," Groves testified.

Groves said the boy didn't believe Deserae ever saw the gun.

Groves said he asked the boy if there was something specific about Deserae that had prompted him to shoot her, if he was angry for any reason, and the boy replied no. The deputy also asked what would have happened in the same situation with another girl, and the boy indicated the outcome would have been the same.

The boy also indicated that, without his friend there, he may not have had the courage to go through with the shooting, Groves testified.

According to police, the boys took Deserae's backpack off her after shooting her, breaking her cellphone and iPod with their hands, tossed her backpack in a trash bin and kept the $55 they'd found in her bag. When Groves asked why they took the backpack, the boy answered with one word: greed.

Groves said that as he was interviewing the alleged gunman, his friend was being interviewed in another room. He informed the teen that his friend had been solely responsible for the shooting, and that he'd told him afterward "He was glad he did it."

The alleged gunman's response to that was emotional, Groves said. In his written statement later, the teen said that his friend was by his side that day, was fully aware of the planning and where he had his weapons, and made no effort to run away afterward.

"He didn't show any sign of fear, regret, remorse. There was nothing," the boy wrote in his statement.

The teen also told police his friend had asked to keep the single shell casing as a "memento," Groves testified. Police found the casing set up in the windowsill of the other boy's bedroom.

Perry — who did not present an opening or closing statement Tuesday — pressed Groves on cross examination about which of the two teens had been more cooperative with police. Groves replied that Perry's client, the alleged gunman, had been the more cooperative of the two and had shown remorse during his interviews with police.

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