CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal prison inmate pleaded guilty Monday to killing a Charleston woman 14 years ago.
Daniel Turner faces 10-40 years in prison after admitting he killed Terry Clark in May 1999. Turner pleaded guilty to second degree murder.
For more than a decade Turner’s name never came up as a suspect. Charleston Police Chief of Detectives Lt. Steve Cooper was originally assigned to the case. He feared they’d never find the culprit despite hundreds of hours devoted to gathering evidence and questioning suspects.
“The fact that [Clark] was strangled and then she was dumped totally nude, in a very public area,” Cooper recounted Monday. “It always bothered me knowing that the person who had committed such a heinous crime was out there.”
But Cooper and the other investigators did collect DNA evidence from the crime scene, Clark’s Charleston apartment, a few days after her body was located along U.S. Route 119 in Roane County.
The case went from cold to red hot last summer when a DNA sample was matched on the FBI database to one taken from Clark’s killer. It belonged to former Roane County resident Daniel Turner who was sitting in a federal prison in Memphis, Tennessee on drug charges.
A Charleston detective went to Memphis to interview Turner and came back with a confession. Turner told police that he went to a woman’s apartment, whom he called “Susan” to make a drug deal with another man. When that went sour, Turner pulled a gun on the man, who then left. He accused Susan [actually Clark], of setting him up and hit her over the head three times and then strangled her with a shoe lace.
Turner was indicted here in West Virginia earlier this year and, on Monday, in front of Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge, Turner admitted his guilt.
“Guilty or not guilty to the felony offense of second-degree murder,” asked Judge Jim Stucky.
Turner’s answer, “Guilty.”
He faces up to 40 years, in prison, when he’s sentenced August 29.
Some of Clark’s family were in the courtroom for the plea. The victim’s cousin, Sally Bergur, admits she doubted Terry’s killer would ever be brought to justice.
“It grieved us that we felt someone would get away with that,” she explained.
Even when the family got the phone call last July that a DNA match had been made there was still doubt. That ended Monday with Turner’s plea. He did not apologize to the family in court but has done so through his attorney.
“We forgave him long ago before we even knew who he was,” says Bergur. “We did that more for ourselves than for him.”
As for Lt. Cooper, he says closing the case is a weight off his mind.
“Everything came together on this case. It just took a decade and a half.”