A cosplay model who claimed she fatally stabbed her fiancé in self defense has been found guilty of second-degree murder after jurors heard that she waited four hours to call for help.
Melissa Turner, 29, is now facing the possibility of life in prison for the October 2018 stabbing of 25-year-old Matthew Trussler. Jurors in the case deliberated for just one day after the weeklong trial, which saw Turner take the stand in her defense. Turner’s lawyer told Law&Crime that an appeal is already in the works just hours after her conviction.
The jury asked just a single question during the course of its deliberations, sending a note to the judge at 2:53 p.m. on Friday asking for a “clearer (layman term) definition of ‘depraved mind’?” The state of Florida defines second-degree murder as:
The unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual…
Jurors had been given the option of convicting Turner of second-degree murder, manslaughter, aggravated battery, or returning a not guilty verdict. Once the jurors agreed on the charge of second-degree murder, they then had to determine in Turner did “personally carry, display, use, threaten or attempt to use a weapon.” Jurors agreed that she did, making the final verdict guilty of second-degree murder with a weapon.
Turner had been offered a plea deal in the case just before her trial. Prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office for the 13th Judicial District filed documents in Hillsborough County Court stating that the defendant turned down their offer of a 25-year sentence, however. In their court filing, Turner and her attorney attempted to counter by saying that they would be open to a five-year sentence, but prosecutors balked at that offer.
One day before her conviction, a tearful Turner took the stand to describe what she claims happened on the night of Trussler’s death. She testified under oath that Trussler had been choking her after a fight between the two turned physical and that in an attempt to save her life, she reached for a knife he had placed in the counter and stabbed him in the back. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office would later determine that back wound to be fatal.
Trussler’s autopsy revealed a few wounds that did not seem to fit with Turner’s narrative, specifically a “defensive wound on his right forearm,” a “large laceration to the upper right bicep,” and a “minor laceration to the middle of his chest.” Prosecutors used this to bolster their case, along with the fact that Turner had been covered in Trussler’s blood when members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene that morning. Moreover, one of those investigators proved to be the star witness for the prosecution: Detective Ryan Lagasse.
Detective Lagasse canvassed the neighborhood after arriving at the home Turner shared with Trussler on the day of the fatal incident. He told jurors that while out in the area he discovered one of Turner’s neighbors had a surveillance camera. Unfortunately, that camera did not capture any video of the incident but did capture Turner arguing with Trussler around the time of his death. Jurors then heard the time-stamped audio first mentioned in the incident report:
At approximately 0432 hours, a suspected female voice appears to say, “you stay down.” At approximately 0433 hours, a noise is captured, which is consistent with glass breaking. Approximately 45 seconds later, a suspected female voice appears to say, “so fucking die.” At approximately 0435 hours, a suspected female voice appears to say, “l hate you.” Approximately 32 seconds later, the suspected female voice then states, “get up” multiple times. At approximately 0437 hours, a noise is heard, which sounds like smacking, followed by yelling, and a female voice is again heard to say, “get up.” At approximately 0437 hours, a female voice is heard to say, “so fucking arrogant, I hate you.” At approximately 0439 hours, a female voice is heard to say several times, “go fuck yourself.” At approximately 0440 hours, a female voice is heard saying, “let’s go.” At approximately 0442 hours, a female voice is again heard saying “fuck you.” At approximately 0443 hours, additional “smacking” noises are heard and a possible male’s voice is heard, but it is unclear what is said. At approximately 0444 hours additional arguing is heard, including a suspected female voice yelling, “No!” At approximately 0445 hours, a female voice is heard, possibly saying, “What did I do?”
The prosecution built its case on that audio and the revelation that Turner waited four hours to notify authorities after stabbing Trussler.
Law&Crime spoke with Turner’s attorney John Trevena about this audio prior to the verdict. He confirmed that the woman heard in the video is Turner but took issue with how prosecutors presented the evidence.
“We have several issues supporting why we believe that the jury should find Ms. Turner not guilty,” explained Trevena. “These issues include expert testimony from our audio/video expert Bruce Koenig that the Nest video/audio recording from a neighbor across the street was manipulated [by prosecutors] in select areas to amplify the volume to make it sound like Ms. Turner was screaming much louder and the portions wherein the alleged victim is speaking are completely inaudible. Further, there are the issues of self-defense and heat of passion.”
Trevena did not say when Turner would file an appeal in the case, but the two will be back in court on May 18 for her sentencing hearing.
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