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The Monique Turenne Story

Part 2 of a two-part series: A soldier's murder, continued

Part 1a | Part 1b | Part 2a | Part 2b

The sheer torture of nagging doubt (2)

Dan Lett - Winnipeg Free Press

Fortunately for Crompton, Graham had little trouble having the confessions thrown out of court. The first informant, Timothy Woods, was an admitted crack and heroin addict. In May, 1996, Woods was leaving court after being sentenced to three years probation for auto theft. On the way from the court house to the office of his probation officer, Woods stopped to rob an aprtment. The second informant, Gerald Miller, had been in and out of mental hospitals his whole life.

As thin as he suspected the state's case was, Graham still elected to use a risky strategy: an indictment of Monique Turenne. Crompton admitted being at the Turenne house the morning of the murder, but he claimed it was Monique who delivered the fatal blows. Graham would try to portray Monique as a manipulative, money-hungry trollop who flirted with every man she met. He presented witness after witness who testified to Monique's frequent tirades about their lack of money and her husband's sexual dysfunction. One witness descibed Monique as a bitter woman who often joked her husband was "worth more dead than alive." Graham also called on Crompton's friend Wagner, who testified that Monique asked to borrow a gun the afternoon before the murder.

Free Press Sunday Cover

Graham used the incident to explain how he believed Monique decided her husband should be bludgeoned. The week before the murder Monique was involved in an altercation with a neighbourhood woman, whose 10-year-old grandchild stuck Monique's 11-year-old son, Daniel, with a plastic hammer. The confrontation between the two women degenerated into a shoving match and police responded. Witnesses to the aftermath testified Monique was unhappy with what she felt was a lack of support from David about the incident. Graham suggested in court it was then that Monique decided her husband should be beaten with a hammer.

Crompton took the stand in his own defence and told of being lured to the Turenne home on the promise of sex only to find out Monique had engineered a confrontation with David by sending him to the store for Midol, medication for menstrual discomfort and a stomach remedy. Crompton claimed their hand-to-hand struggle ended with Monique battering David Turenne with a hammer. Crompton also claimed that Turenne was alive when he left, and that he advised Monique to call 911 to seek medical attention for her husband.

Crompton could not fill in some of the blanks about what happened after he left, but Graham tried gamely to paint a picture. He noted that Monique claimed to have tried to roll the body over, but police found virtually no blood on her clothes. He also suggested that Monique had plenty of time between the murder, at about 2:30 a.m., and the call to 911, at 5.45 a.m., to shower, do laundry and dispose of the murder weapon.

As convincing as Graham was, for Jim Appleman, the strategy may have turned out to be his biggest break. "In Florida we have a law called the Law of Principals. If two or more people are involved in a crime and each participates . . . then they're both equally guilty of the crime no matter who pulls the trigger. (Crompton) was slitting his own throat the more he went along."

Graham's strategy would have a profound impact on the prosecution. Prior to trial, the state had tried to get Crompton to pin the crime on Monique. When that didn't work, and with Monique out of the country fighting extradition, the prosecution put Crompton in the cross-hairs. In his opening statement, Assistant State Attorney Larry Basford, who tried the case, told the jury Crompton acted alone. By the end of the trial, however, Basford had changed his tack to make use of Graham's allegations against Monique. "I'll submit to you that she is an evil, vile and wicked woman," Basford told the jury. "And that under the laws of Florida . . . she is equally as guilty as the man who swung the hammer and killed her husband because she knowlingly sent her husband outside, knowing that Ralph Crompton was going to kill him. That was just like sending a lamb to the slaughter."

Graham was able to score some direct hits on the state's case. Among other things, he made a persuasive argument that police mishandled the crime scene by failing to test any of the hand tools in the Turenne house for blood. Graham pointed out police failed to closely examine the washing machine and dryer to see if it had been used before police arrived. Graham also discovered that Det. Mark McClain's notes from the Aiken hotel -- the notes he dictated into a tape recorder as Crompton was being taken to hospital -- contained no mention of a confession. Crompton's stunning admission was added later to a written report.

As the trial came to a close, Crompton said he and Graham were confident they had established reasonable doubt. And technically speaking, Graham was right. Two jurors believed Crompton might be innocent. Unfortunately, Laura Eaton and Shirley Davis were struggling to hold out against the majority's desire to convict. In transcripts of a special post-trial hearing, Eaton and Davis claimed they asked the foreman to tell Circuit Court Judge Glenn Hess the jury was deadlocked, but he refused. The jurors claimed the pressure from the rest of the jury, and in particular the foreman, was so severe, that after six hours of deliberations they voted to convict.

As the guilty verdict was read out, Crompton shook his head slightly, but said nothing. When the jury was polled, all nodded in agreement with the verdict, save for Eaton and Davis who, the court reporter would later remark, remained motionless.

At this point the proceedings descended into chaos. After the verdict, the jury was scheduled to hear submissions for sentencing, with the state seeking the death penalty. Eaton and Davis, finally free to approach the court, pleaded to be excused. Judge Hess declined, and asked the two jurors if they would consider remaining if a new foreman was appointed. Remarkably, the two women agreed. At that point, however, both defence and prosecution lawyers objected and Hess had no choice but to dismiss the jury and set sentence himself. Rejecting calls for the electric chair, Hess elected for life in prison with no chance of parole. Crompton was 41.

Crompton said he was stunned when Hess would not declare a mistrial. However, both he and Graham were confident there was a strong case for appeal. They would be wrong, again. In July, 1998, a three-member panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction. And because the court did not issue a written decision, it quashed any further avenues of appeal.

Crompton continues to seek new evidence to reopen his case. He has several leads, but nothing hard, yet. Only the prospect of another 30 years in a state prison. "Once your direct appeals are done, you're on your own," Crompton said. "It's tough. The courts are very reluctant to listen to you."

Jim Appleman

State Attorney Jim Appleman is a lawyer but he is also every inch a politician. His handshake is firm. His smile is broad and snowy white. Especially in contrast with his year-round Florida tan.

The David Turenne murder case has been, in Appleman'a words, a milestone in his 20-year career as the top elected prosecutor for Bay County. However, with the lengthy delays in having Monique Turenne returned to Florida, Appleton has begun to wonder if he's ever going to see this one through. "One of the newspaper reporters asked me, 'Which is gonna come first -- this particular trial or yor social security benefits?' I think social security will probably arrive when I'm 62, and that's 10 years from now."

Last October, A manitoba Court of Queen's Bench ordered Monique extradited to Florida to stand trial. She is waiting to hear whether federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan will intervene in the case. If she does not, and it appears she won't, then there are still appeals to the Manitoba Court of Appeal and, perhaps, the Supreme Court of Canada. It is a process that could take years.

Monique's lawyer, Greg Brodsky, has argued that Florida is manipulating and possibly withholding evidence to win the extradition. Brodsky noted the strongest evidence they have against Monique is the testimony of Ralph Crompton, who was taken from prison to testify at the March 1997 grand jury hearing that led to her indictment. "After proving that he was a liar at his own trial, they are going to put forward Crompton as a credible and truthful witness," Brodsky said. "Come on."

The state's case against Monique is not expected to contain much in the way of new evidence. Police still have not found the murder weapon although they will allege Monique and Crompton stole a hammer from a workbench at ARA. Appleman says he still does not believe Crompton's assertion that Monique dealt the fatal blows to her husband. But given what the prosecution alleges her role to be, and the Law of Principals, Appleman believes she is just as guilty.

Appleman waived the death penalty to speed up extradition -- Canada is reluctant to extradite to any jurisdiction employing capital punishment -- but would have sought it had she not left Florida. "If you look at it from the standpoint of the heinousness of the crime, attacking someone and hitting them with a ball-peen hammer, yes I do (support a request for the death penalty)."

To date, Monique continues to maintain there was no affair with Crompton and she had no knowledge of any plot to murder her husband. She said she believes David left the house on the morning of the murder to get a remedy for a stomach-ache he complained of earlier in the evening. She also steadfastly claims David was living a secret life of drinking and carousing with unsavoury characters in Panama City, which left the family in deep debt.

There is evidence of inexplicable financial problems. neither Monique nor David owned any property, save for a power boat and two cars, or had made any significant investments. Even though he was working in Florida, David was paid in Canadian dollars, which ate into his take-home pay. On the other hand, he got both a housing allowance and a foreign service allowance from the military.

Yet, at the time of his death, Turenne was more than $70,000 in debt. Copies of credit card statements are loaded with cash advances. On just one of the half-dozen cards Turenne used, he was charging more than $1,000 Cdn a month in cash advances, for what purpose it is not clear. He was also withdrawing money from RRSPs.

While the financial problems were pressing, there is no evidence he alone was responsible for the mess. Monique has no independent witnesses to the other, more nefarious aspects of Turenne's secret life. Monique claims his military friends have closed ranks to protect the memory of their colleague. But friends and co-workers, both in Florida and Winnipeg, insist he was anything but a drunken lout. Colleagues describe him as a low-key, moderate drinker and a family man. Autopsy results do not support a drinking problem, with no obvious drinking-related health problems mentioned in the report.

The crux of Monique's theory is her assertion that one of these unsavoury characters -- a tall, thin man with a blond ponytail and tattoos -- woke her the morning of the murder and held her and the children at knife-point while searching the home for money. According to Monique, when she awoke that morning, David was not in the house. After several hours of forcible confinement, the man found a briefcase full of cash and left. When she went outside to see if he had gone, Monique claimed that she found David's body. The ponytail man, who was still on the property, threatened to kill her children if she said anything.

Out of that pressing fear, Monique claims she did not tell police in Florida or Winnipeg about the ponytail man. She now acknowledges this failure to speak up makes the story hard to prove. Five years later, there is almost no possibility of finding hard evidence to support her version. Police did find some unexplained clues, including fingerprints on the door of Monique's Volkswagen convertible and cigarette butts across the street. All police could say was that neither Crompton nor David Turenne were the source of the prints and butts. Police also found a single men's Nike running shoe which did not appear to belong to either Crompton or Turenne.

What Monique cannot escape, however is damning circumstantial evidence that heightens suspicions about her involvement. While she denies having an affair with Crompton, no one has been able to find a good reason for Crompton to lie about the liaison. Monique argues that Crompton made up the affair to hide his involvement in some other plot to kill Turenne involving the aforementioned ponytail man.

Still, there is little evidence of an affair. Police used telephone records showing calls from Crompton to Turenne at work to establish a pattern of surreptitious contact. Police would also note on Crompton's hotel bill several unexplained calls to a phone booth not far from the Turenne home. Beyond these circumstantial bits, the only witness who will confirm the affair is Anna Felix, a friend of Crompton who testified at his trial. In an interview, Felix said Crompton told her of the affair with Monique in the summer of 1995, but even though she worked with both at ARA, she never saw any independent signs of a relationship.

Monique is also tormented by other evidence that indicates unusual behavior prior to the murder. Gary Wagner, a friend of Crompton's who worked at ARA, testified at Crompton's trial that Monique approached him the afternoon before the murder to ask for a gun. Monique was concerned about a crazy 16-year old neighbourhood youth who hit her son, Daniel, with a hammer. Wagner, who refused to give Monique a gun, said he only came to believe later, during Crompton's trial, that Monique' story was an exaggeration of the incident with the 10-year-old boy and the plastic hammer. In early interviews with the Free Press, Monique denied ever talking to Wagner on the afternoon before the murder. However, in a later interview, Monique admitted she had talked with Wagner about a problem with a neighbourhood boy, but it was Wagner who asked Monique if she wanted a gun for protection.

Also at issue are telephone calls charged to Crompton's hotel room in Aiken. Hotel and calling card phone records clearly show Crompton called Monique frequently at work, and once on the afternoon before the murder. Police claim this call was to make final arrangements for their rendezvous in Panama City. Co-workers who sat near Monique confirmed she had a heated phone conversation with someone between 3:25 p.m. and 3:50 p.m. but Monique says she has no recollection of talking to Crompton that afternoon.

Finally, there is the statement taken by Winnipeg police when she returned for David's funeral. Monique claims the two detectives interrogating her made up a confession and forced her to sign it. She claims she wrote "I do not believe any of this" on the hand-written version of the police statement. While there is little to substantiate her allegations of coercion by police, the statement she gave them is unreliable.

Monique's statement was not tape recorded. Normally, when police compose a suspect statement by hand, the text appears as a large block; officers write down the suspect's words as best they can and then give the suspect the opportunity to look it over and make changes. Then the suspect signs the statement. A statement of this kind is not a verbatim account but a paraphrase, using as much of the suspect's own words as possible. The rationale for this approach is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to record an interrogation by hand in verbatim form.

An examination of a photocopy of Monique's statement shows handwritten notes by a police officer in perfect question and answer form, with all pauses, "ahs" and "likes" included. There is no comment from Monique on the last page and what appears to be her signature is found at the bottom of each page. Pending the outcome of a trial in Florida, Winnipeg police have refused to answer any direct questions about the methods used to take this statement.

If there is anything working in Monique's favour, it is the abundant loose ends -- and dead ends -- in this case. Scattered facts that don't match up, half-baked theories that don't make sense. And then, there is the completely inexplicable.

Five days after David Turenne was killed, someone walked into a Montreal bookstore with his CIBC Visa card and bought $75 worth of merchandise. The bank had not yet cancelled the card., even though the cardholder was dead. The person, or people, would try to use the card at least one more time, according to a collection agency now pursuing the fraudulant charges from Turenne's estate. To Monique, it is evidence that robbery may have been a motice in the murder. When informed of the credit card charges, Panama City Det. Dan Bates would not indicate whether he would investigate.

The mystery surrounding the Visa bill is typical of Monique Turenne's predicament. There is also the unexplained Nike running shoe left near Turenne's body and a handful of other scraps of evidence such as the cigarette butts and fingerprints found on Monique's car.

No certainty. No easy explanations. And a growing dread that her ordeal may never be over. "The biggest problem for us right now is that we haven't been allowed to grieve," she said. "And that's so sad. Did I love him? Sure, I loved him. I miss him."

Sitting on the patio of a downtown Panama City coffee house, Marilyn Crompton shields her eyes from the sun, which has returned with a vengeance to the drowsy, vacant streets. Torents of rain brought by an early afternoon thunderstorm that struck just an hour earlier are evaporating with haste, leaving behind only a damp, warm breeze that reminds her why she moved from Massachusetts to Florida in the first place.

As she lights a cigarette, Marilyn talks of her most recent discovery: The great irony of violent crime. When the trial is over, the family of the victim and the family of the assailant are left to share similar emotions and experiences.

Since Ralph's trial, Marilyn Crompton has been forced to declare personal bankruptcy. She has moved from her home and lives with three of her four children in a trailer park. After the shock, the humiliation and sadness of watching Ralph go to prison. Marilyn said she has been unable to explain to her kids why their once promising life has turned out this way.

Marilyn says she believes Ralph when he says he did not kill David Turenne. But that does not offer any hope for the future. "My children are suffering the same kind of loss as David's family. They lost their father. Except because he's in prison, there's no closure. I never thought I'd live like this."

The wake of the murder has been difficult, too, for the rest of Ralph's family. Alice Simard, Ralph's sister, has maintained a loyal vigil for her brother. They talk by phone several times a week and as often as she can, she makes the six-hour trip from her home in Clearwater Beach to the prison east of Talahassee. As badly as she feels for Ralph, and as much as she believes he did not murder David Turenne, she cannot shake the feeling that whatever his crime, he is exactly where he deserves to be.

"He finally admitted that he lied and lied and lied and lied," Simard said. "That was his biggest mistake. I am mad at him for being involved in this thing. He is where he should be now, but he doesn't deserve to be there for the rest of his life. He shouln't be in prison for having an affair, but that's what I think he did."

For David Turenne's family and friends in Winnipeg, the murder continues to exist like some sort of bizarre made-for-television movie. In his bunker-like office deep within the confines of St. Vital Centre, Charlie Finnbogason, the mall manager, has tried vainly to understand how his lifelong friend could take on the role of victim in this melodrama.

Finnbogason attended Golden Gate junior high school and the University of Manitoba with Turenne. They were in the same fraternity and often played racquetball and golf together, and saw each other through good times and bad. Turenne was in Finnbogason's wedding party. The two did not keep in close contact after David moved to Florida, a fact that weighs heavily on those who remain.

"How does one feel?" Finnbogason said, his lower lip trembling. "We got the call on the Friday night. It's one thing if somebody was involved in a car accident. But when a friend of 30 years is murdered, it was absolute shock and disbelief.

"Typically, when someone dies, the funeral is the closure. Obiously in this case, the funeral wasn't the closure."

Peace has also been elusive for Pat Turenne, David's sister, who is locked in painful struggle with Monique over the estate, most of which is frozen pending the outcome of the extradition and trial. The conflict has become so pointed that David's parents have had little or no contact with their grandson, Michael.

"What makes it so frustrating and painful is that we may never know what happened. I want to know. I wish somebody would come forward and say I've got a videotape of the whole thing. It's sheer torture that I don't know what happened.

"I need to know what happened. Did he know what was happening? Did he think, 'I'm dying. I'm hurt and I'm going to die? It's awful but we may never know."

Part one: 1 | 2 | beginning of part two