All charges against a Saegertown man accused of killing his stepmother and half-brother were held for court in a preliminary hearing on Friday.
Jack Elijah Turner, 21, will face two counts of criminal homicide for the murders of Shannon Whitman, 49, and her son Darrin Whitman, 10, at their Randolph Township home on Aug. 10. Turner is also facing numerous other charges, including felony counts of burglary and theft.
The bodies of Shannon and Darrin Whitman were discovered by the former’s husband and latter’s father, Scott Whitman, who is also Turner’s biological father. Scott Whitman was the first person called up to testify at the preliminary hearing, which was held before Magisterial District Judge Amy Nicols, of Titusville.
Scott Whitman said in his testimony that he found the bodies after returning home from work as a Certified Nursing Assistant at AristaCare, where Shannon Whitman also worked. Scott Whitman noticed something was odd upon returning to the home, located at 13185 State Highway 198, when he found that the front door was unlocked, yet all lights within the house were off.
Further, Shannon Whitman’s car, a silver Lincoln MKS Sedan, was not parked in its usual spot and his dog, a pitbull named Max, did not bark when he entered.
Scott Whitman entered the home and attempted to call his wife on a cordless phone, only to find that the line was dead. Unable to find a note, Scott Whitman looked into a sunroom at the home, where he said he found the corpses with blood around them.
“They were dead,” Scott Whitman said, holding back tears.
After making the discovery, Scott Whitman went to a neighbor’s house to call for police. In his testimony, he said that Turner was not permitted at the house, and that Turner had not lived at the home with the Whitman’s in around four to six months. Scott Whitman also said he had a container of Suboxone medication that he had hidden in the home out of fear of Turner attempting to steal it. The Suboxone was missing from the house after the murders, alongside a handgun, rifle, cigarette rolling machine and supplies, a small gray safe and a photograph.
Under cross-examination by Turner’s lawyer, Scott Whitman admitted he did not see Turner at the house on the night he found the bodies. He was also asked to reiterate a fact made during his initial testimony regarding a door to the sunroom with a broken lock. The lock had been broken before the night of the killings.
Scott Whitman’s testimony was joined by testimony given by four Pennsylvania State Police troopers. Trooper Justin Simons, a member of the Forensic Services Unit with the Meadville barracks, described the information-gathering process performed by police at the home after the murders were reported.
Simons testified that both Shannon and Darrin Whitman were found in “pools of blood,” with the mother having blood on her ears and face, while the child had a wound to the head. A later autopsy would find that Shannon Whitman had a single gunshot wound to the back of the head, the cause of her death, and lacerations and contusions on her face. The bullet which killed her was recovered from her skull.
Simons also explained that Darrin Whitman had a bullet wound which passed all the way through his head, in addition to contusions on his shins. A deformity on the floor near where Shannon Whitman’s head was laying was found, and a second bullet was later discovered in the basement of the home, under a set of stairs.
According to testimony given at the hearing by Trooper Chad Resetar, of the Meadville barracks’s Criminal Investigation Unit, the bullet found in Shannon Whitman’s skull was later matched to a pistol which Turner had in his possession when he was arrested. The other bullet was too damaged to be matched to a gun, however. Further, a wine bottle discovered at the scene was found to have a DNA match to Turner, according to Resetar.
Testimony given by Trooper Ronald Godek, of the Corry barracks of PSP, dealt with an interview conducted with Turner’s now former girlfriend. According to Godek, the girlfriend said Turner asked her to meet near the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville on the night of the murders around 8:41 p.m. The girlfriend told Godek that Turner gave her a cigarette roller and cigarette rolling paper, money and Suboxone. She also said that he was driving a silver vehicle she had never seen him use before, was sweating profusely when they met, claimed he had been shot and had a firearm with a camouflage pattern.
The items Turner gave to the girlfriend were later recovered following a consented search, according to PSP Criminal Investigator Nicholas Stolar.
In testimony given by Resetar, it was revealed that someone using the Facebook profile of Turner left a public comment on the page of a friend of his asking him to call a number. The number given was the landline for the Whitman house. Further, Resetar said that a call was placed to a brother of Turner’s from the landline’s number on the day of the murders.
Turner was arrested on Aug. 14 in Charleston, West Virginia by the local police force at a Greyhound bus station. Resetar interviewed Turner the following day, during which, according to Resetar’s testimony, Turner admitted to stealing the Sedan belonging to Shannon Whitman, but not to the murders. He said that Turner initially claimed he found the vehicle unlocked and running at the home with no one else around and took it to perform a robbery, never going into the home itself.
In addition to the homicide counts, Turner is facing charges for allegedly robbing a gas station clerk in Millcreek Township at gunpoint. The incident, which reportedly took place on Aug. 11, saw a man matching Turner’s description drive up to a Kwik Fill located on W. 38th St. in Millcreek, then approach a clerk while holding a handgun and demanding cash, according to the Millcreek Police Department. The man reportedly drove off in a four-door Sedan similar to the vehicle owned by Shannon Whitman. No one was hurt during the interaction.
Resetar testified that Turner later changed his story, and said he arrived at the house to find no one home and stayed there for a while. He reported that he left the house to visit a friend, and when he came back found the car and took it, not entering the home.
The defense offered no objections throughout the hearing, and called no witnesses to the stand, opting to reserve argument for the full trial. Turner himself was relatively silent throughout the proceedings, only speaking aloud once to respond to a question from Judge Nicols about whether he understood what would happen as a result of the hearing.
Ultimately, Nicols allowed all charges stemming from the homicide case to proceed to court against Turner. He is facing four counts of criminal homicide, felony 1 charges with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment and fines of $50,000 each; one count of burglary, also a felony offense with a maximum possible sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $25,000; two counts of theft by unlawful taking, felony 2 charges with a maximum possible sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $25,000 each.
In addition, Turner also waived his right to a preliminary hearing on a separate set of charges from the Titusville Police Department alleging that he stole a city resident’s vehicle.
According to the affidavit, police responded to a report of a stolen vehicle on Aug. 9 in the 200 block of Brook Street. An investigation was initiated which led to the discovery of surveillance footage from a neighbor’s home, which showed a male walking into the area around 3:46 a.m. Police also reportedly learned that Turner was in the Titusville area on the day of the alleged theft.
The vehicle, a white 2016 Chevrolet Cruz, was later found in West Mead Township abandoned in a gravel pit along Shartle Road. The vehicle had incurred significant damage, according to the affidavit, to the point that the insurance agency declared it a total loss, with damage valued at $10,083.58.
The victim was later able to identify Turner as the one who stole the car in a line up, according to the affidavit.
For these charges, Turner is facing one count of theft by unlawful taking at a felony 3 degree, which incurs a maximum possible sentence of seven years imprisonment and a fine of $15,000; one count of receiving stolen property, also a felony 3 charge; and one count of criminal mischief, another felony 3.
Turner is currently confined to the Crawford County Correctional Facility, with bail denied in the homicide case. Bail in the Titusville car theft is set at $20,000.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.