A Fort Stewart soldier will have his case referred to the grand jury after a hearing to determine probable cause was held Monday morning in front of Liberty County Superior Court Judge Robert Russell.
Kenneth Turner, 27, is charged with one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault for allegedly stabbing Midway resident Benjamin O’ Neal, 60, at the Cay Creek Wetland Interpretative Center on July 21.
O’Neal later was pronounced dead at Liberty Regional Medical Center. Turner sustained a stab wound and was airlifted to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, where he was treated for his injury and later apprehended.
Initial reports obtained through interviews and press releases revealed little information as to what led to the double stabbing. While the evidence presented by the state was enough to move the case forward, there are still many questions as to what took place that morning.
Midway Police Department officers and rescue personnel already were at the scene when Liberty County Sheriff’s Office investigator Brian Barnes arrived, according to his testimony. He presented his findings to the court on behalf of the state.
Barnes said Turner made the 911 call from the boardwalk, saying he and another man had been stabbed.
“O’Neal’s shirt was saturated in blood, and he was awake but unresponsive,” Barnes said, later adding that O’Neal was unable to speak. “Turner was bleeding from his side (left side torso area). He said O’Neal stabbed him and he took the knife away and stabbed him back.”
According to an earlier interview with O’Neal’s sister Mary Ann Wells, O’Neal grew up near Cay Creek and spent much of his time fishing and crabbing from the docks. According to Barnes’ testimony, it appears O’Neal was at his usual fishing hole when Turner came by.
Authorities believe a fight ensued.
“Turner said he was walking along the boardwalk for PT (physical therapy) due to an injured back and said that was all he was allowed to do,” Barnes said, reading from his reports. “He said he was walking on the boardwalk and came up on O’Neal, who was crabbing. He said he walked past O’Neal and he suddenly heard a loud noise and he was hit to the ground.”
Barnes continued to testify, saying that Turner became upset and believed O’Neal had done something that caused him to fall. Barnes added that Turner stated he approached O’Neal in a loud manner.
“He got mad and approached O’Neal saying, ‘What did you do to me?’” Barnes said, reading the police report.
According to testimony, O’Neal’s body was discovered 400 feet from Turner.
Barnes added that several items at the scene were collected and sent to the GBI crime lab in Augusta. Among them were the victim’s body, the bloody clothes of both men, one knife covered with blood, another knife retrieved from Turner’s pocket that was folded and appeared unused, several cigarette butts and what he called a blunt cigarette.
The investigator said he thought the blunt might be a marijuana cigarette, “but when I smelled it, it didn’t smell like any marijuana cigarette I had smelled before,” he told the court.
Barnes said that while investigating the crime scene, he retrieved a bag from Turner’s pocket that contained a product called Atomic Bomb. Barnes said Turner admitted to investigators he had smoked it, saying it gave him a temporary and quick buzz.
According to spice-gold-direct.com, Atomic Bomb is an herbal incense mix that is legal to purchase in the United States. While the herbal mix is not meant for human consumption, it is becoming a popular smoking item among people looking for a legal high.
According to news reports, the mix may be responsible for the hospitalization of three teens in the United Kingdom.
Barnes testified that O’Neal was roughly 5’3” and 95 pounds. The autopsy report revealed that O’Neal was stabbed 46 times throughout his body.
Turner’s attorney, William Cox, questioned Barnes about the knife, asking if they had determined whose blood or fingerprints were on it, to which Barnes said they were still being analyzed. Cox questioned the investigator about O’ Neal’s background and whether interviews with his client were recorded.
He also asked whether a DNA sample was taken from his client, to which Barnes said the Fort Stewart Criminal Investigation Division, which is cooperating with the case, did so while Turner was being treated at the hospital. Cox asked if his client was questioned while in the hospital and when he was read his Miranda rights.
Barnes said Turner was arrested after he was released from the hospital and was read his rights.
Throughout the proceedings, Turner faced the table, stared at the floor and never spoke or offered a glimpse of what might have transpired that day. After the hearing, he was led back to jail, where he is being held with no bond.
In other court news, the case against Maurice Newsome was moved to the next term calendar. Newsome is charged with one count of malice murder, one count of felony murder, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, one count of aggravated assault and one count of concealing the death of another for his alleged involvement in the death of Savannah Smith.
Smith disappeared on June 8, 2010, and her body was discovered June 18, 2010, near Juanita Road in Liberty County. Newsome originally was charged with aggravated assault in June 2010, and the murder charges were added in July 2010. He currently is in jail on a $250,000 bond. His case was presented to the grand jury during the February 2010 term, and he is waiting to be formally arraigned.