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Prosecutor Megan Frederick shows Bobby Turner records clearing his name as attorney John Bennett looks on.
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Thanks to the efforts of Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney Megan Frederick and her staff, Bobby Turner got an early Christmas gift.
This week, Frederick, accompanied by members of her staff and attorney John Bennett, went to Turner's Eggbornsville home and presented him with documents certifying that felony charges lodged against the retired Culpeper County plumber in 2009 have been expunged.
Turner, who had never been in trouble with the law before this legal nightmare began, became emotional when he realized that he once again has an unblemished record.
"I'm really thankful," said Turner, who is in failing health. "This was a long time coming."
Turner operated a successful plumbing business in April of 2009 when deputies showed up at his door saying that a parcel delivery truck driver had accused Turner of throwing rocks at the delivery truck. Those damages, initially estimated at more than $1,000, made the offense a felony.
Turner maintained his innocence from the beginning and told the deputies that he had been drinking coffee at a local plumbing-supply business when the incident was alleged to have occurred. And, he said, he could produce alibi witnesses.
The deputies never bothered to check those witnesses and a warrant was sworn out against Turner, who was told to surrender to the Sheriff's Office.
Bennett, who provided temporary representation during the arrest, still remembers that day.
"Here was a man who had never been in trouble in his life and the magistrate insisted on a surety bond," Bennett recalled during Wednesday presentation. "I tried to go his bond, but at first the magistrate wouldn't let me. They actually took Bobby to a cell."
Bennett, however, finally persuaded the magistrate to bond Turner and he was released after an hour or so.
Having never been in trouble, a shocked and confused Turner found himself caught up in a complicated legal system that he did not understand.
He spent thousands of dollars on two other lawyers who, he maintains, also never bothered to talk to or subpoena the alibi witnesses. Those witnesses confirmed Turner's story in 2010 interviews with The Free Lance-Star.
Turner said then-Commonwealth Attorney Gary Close's office twice tried to get him to take a plea bargain, but he refused to plead guilty when he was innocent.
By then, the actual property-damage estimate had been reduced from $1,000 to $300. Turner steadfastly refused to pay for damages he did not cause.
Eventually the case was nolle prossed (still on the record but inactive), but not before the stress of the ordeal helped bring on two strokes that caused Turner, who just turned 68, to lose his business.
"I had a good life," Turner said Wednesday. "I wasn't prepared for this."
Now suffering from kidney failure, the man who worked in a physical profession four years ago now appears pale and frail.
His wife, Ruby, contacted The Free Lance-Star Tuesday asking for help.
"Bobby's health is failing and he says that the one thing he wants before he dies is to have his name cleared," Ruby Turner said.
The wife's plea was sent to Frederick and the recently elected commonwealth's attorney immediately began investigating. Within 24 hours, she and her staff had found Turner's records, prepared the proper documents and gotten Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock to sign them.
"This was a team effort," Frederick told Turner. "A lot of hands helped make this happen. It wasn't just me."
In particular, she applauded the efforts of Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dale Durrer, Circuit Court Clerk Janice Corbin and Whitlock.
Frederick also apologized to Turner on behalf of Culpeper County law enforcement for what she termed "shoddy" investigative efforts.
"No citizen should be treated that way," she said. "I'm not afraid to apologize when the system is wrong."
And Frederick added, "If you're an honest citizen, you shouldn't have a record."
Teary-eyed, Turner again thanked Frederick for a Christmas present he didn't expect.