A man accused of murdering his stepdaughter more than 20 years ago is a free man after a judge dismissed the case against him.
Michael Turney, 75, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Alissa Turney, his stepdaughter. Alissa was 17 years old when she disappeared on May 17, 2001. As Law&Crime previously reported, she was last seen by her boyfriend that day — the last day of the girl’s junior year of high school. According to Alissa’s boyfriend, the girl’s father was supposed to pick her up from school early that day.
“The court is deciding whether or not a reasonable inference, from the evidence that has been put before the jury […] can be made that the defendant caused, or the defendant engaged in conduct that resulted, in Alissa’s death,” Judge Sam Myers said following arguments from both prosecutors and defense attorneys regarding defense motions for dismissal and acquittal on Monday. “The court is unable to make that finding.”
Turney had initially reported Alissa as a runaway, claiming that she had written a letter saying that she was heading to California.
“The defendant raised Alissa and the court is not here to decide if his parenting style was appropriate or inappropriate,” Myers said after noting that there was “really no testimony” about Turney’s conduct “in relation to Alissa’s death.”
Myers also granted a defense motion for acquittal.
“There is evidence in the case, I am not here to suggest that the state has put forth no evidence,” Myers said. “There is evidence […] the question then becomes is it substantial that would warrant a conviction for second-degree murder.”
The shocking turn came after more than a week of jury trial, which began on July 6. Myers heard the defense motions outside the presence of the jury, who he brought back into the courtroom after making his decision.
“During the break, I had to make some legal rulings, and as a result of my rulings, the trial is now over,” Myers told the jurors. He thanked them for their time and said their participation in the trial “was important and meaningful.”
Reports from inside the courtroom say the response from the family was emotional.
“Some people sitting in the family row are crying,” ABC affiliate KNXV reported. “Michael Turney appears to audibly breathe a sigh of relief. Prosecutors have gotten up abruptly.”
BREAKING: Michael Turney case thrown out by judge. Some people sitting in the family row are crying. Michael Turney appears to audibly breath a sigh of relief. Prosecutors have gotten up abruptly. @abc15 pic.twitter.com/9R1ChbDSe9
— Ashley Holden (@ashleyvholden) July 17, 2023
Myers asked prosecutors and defense lawyers if they wanted to speak to the jury. A prosecutor declined, while a defense attorney said that they would speak to jurors if the jurors had questions or wanted to speak with them.
Alissa’s case went cold until 2008, when the Phoenix Police Department Missing Persons Unit reopened the matter and declared foul play was a factor in her disappearance. Police executed a search warrant at Turney’s home and found surveillance footage, 19 high caliber assault rifles, two handmade silencers, a van filled with gasoline cans, and 26 homemade explosive devices. Turney allegedly planned to blow up a union hall, according to detectives.
In 2010, Turney pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for possessing unregistered pipe bombs. He was released in 2017 and re-arrested in 2020 after a grand jury indicted him on the second-degree murder charge.
Myers noted that he granted the dismissal only as to the murder charge.
Although Alissa’s body has never been found, Myers did find that there is a “reasonable inference that Alissa is dead.”
Christina Bubba and Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.
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