Stepdad testifies: 'No way' would he strike Jahi Turner

Tieray Jones took the witness stand in San Diego Superior Court Thursday to refute a charge that he murdered stepson Jahi Turner in 2002, saying, “there’s no way” he would strike the boy.

“There’s no way I can be in such a rage or frustrated enough to strike my son,” Jones said.

His testimony came in the third week of his trial on the murder charge. A charge of felony child abuse leading to death was dismissed last week. He could face life in prison if convicted.

Jahi’s body was never found after he disappeared.

Jones called 911 on April 23, 2002, to report him missing. He told San Diego police he’d walked the child to a park in Golden Hill, left him playing for 15 minutes, then returned and the boy was gone.

Police mounted massive efforts to search for the 2-year-old. When they learned from neighbors that Jones had dumped large trash bags into the apartment complex trash bins, officers spent days raking through garbage at Miramar landfill.

They came up empty. By 2004 then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced that there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in Jahi’s disappearance.

Then Jones was arrested in 2016 and charged in the case, with police saying they had new evidence. Jones has remained in jail awaiting trial, which opened Feb. 15.

Since then, prosecutors called witnesses who had been in the park at the time Jones said he was there with the boy, and they testified that they did not see the pair.

Jones’ now ex-wife, Tameka Jones, also testified that police had her call him in 2015 and ask what happened with Jahi. In that conversation, recorded by investigators, Jones stammered and did not give a clear answer.

Defense attorney Courtney Cutter called character witnesses who spoke of Jones’ love for Jahi and other children he fathered by different women.

She called Jones to the stand late Thursday morning and asked him about entries he made in a journal, meant to be read by his wife when she returned from deployment on a Navy ship.

Prosecutors had fastened on journal notes about Jahi wetting the bed he shared with Jones, and getting a bump on his head from some unspecified incident.

Other entries described Jones’s failed efforts to use a bank debit card his wife had left him.

Cutter, though, took Jones through entries in which he described his love for his wife. He said he admired her for her “focus,” of staying in school and joining the Navy, while he had led a different, wilder life.

“Tameka said I could be better,” Jones testified. Cutter asked, “Did you believe her?” Jones answered, “Absolutely.”

He said he had an outstanding warrant from his hometown in Maryland, and worried that if he was jailed a long time, his wife might not wait for him.

She had brought Jahi to San Diego from Maryland, where her mother had cared for him, shortly before deploying, leaving the boy in Jones’ care.

Jones said he wanted to be a male figure that Jahi could look up to, and give him a safe home. He also said he wanted to give Jahi his last name.

In journal entries dated April 23, Jones called his wife to tell her Jahi had fallen and had a bump on his head.

He testified that he saw their two cats run into the bedroom, heard a crashing noise, and walked over to ask Jahi if he was OK. He said the boy was standing by the bed, then crawled up on it.

Later, he said, Jahi wasn’t talking or walking much.

Cutter asked if he thought Jahi was sick or injured. Jones said he thought the boy was homesick in his new surroundings.

“If I thought he was sick, no way I wouldn’t have tried to remedy whatever was wrong,” Jones said.

His testimony was expected to continue Friday.

pauline.repard@sduniontribune

Twitter: @pdrepard

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