DURHAM — Rosemarie Turner stood outside a courtroom Thursday where a jury had just found a Texas man guilty of murdering her son, an all-star high school football player who left her western Pennsylvania home in June 2011 with big plans for a bright future.
Still shaken and emotional, Turner pulled back her long hair to display the button on her blouse, a photo of her beaming son in his football uniform, one knee to the turf, the other propping his helmet in hand.
She wanted to offer what she remembers about her son and what she misses most, but she could only get out a few thoughts before emotion choked her words. “His smile.” “His eyes.”
Darrell Turner Jr., a 5-foot-10 inch, 200-pound linebacker from Monroeville, Pa. – called “Mook” by his friends and a Division 1 prospect by his coaches – never got to test his dreams. While en route to a football camp in Florida, the 18-year-old was fatally shot in a Durham parking lot on June 23, 2011, by Gabriel James Gamez, a 24-year-old Texan who was at the same crossroads near Interstate 40 and U.S. 15-501 while on a visit to Durham for his grandmother’s funeral.
On Thursday, after nearly 12 hours of deliberation over three days, eight women and four men on a Durham County Superior Court jury found Gamez guilty of first-degree murder.
He had described the shooting as “self-defense.” No weapon associated with the victim was found.
Though prosecutors offered no clear motive for the shooting, they argued that race played a role.
The shooter is white and, according to testimony, told a restaurant worker shortly before the parking lot confrontation that he did not like North Carolina, that too many African-Americans lived in the state. The worker also testified that Gamez told her he would shoot any black person who said anything to him or his family. Turner was black.
A chance meeting
Turner and five others had just finished up a meal of hamburgers at a Five Guys restaurant near the Comfort Inn, where they were bunking for the night. The players had spent the afternoon at the University of Virginia before heading south. They were famished when they arrived in Durham.
They were near an AT&T store, still eating shelled peanuts from the big bins at Five Guys, when they encountered Gamez, according to testimony. The players say the well-dressed Texan just started yelling at them, asking them what they were looking at.
Gamez contends he was struck by something, but his story conflicts with the players’ reports.
Some of the players said they stopped and turned around to find out what Gamez was arguing about, and heated words were exchanged.
At some point, the argument escalated to where Gamez lifted up his shirt to reveal a gun in his waistband. As he brandished it, prosecutors contend, the players fled toward the hotel.
Turner was struck in the back, according to the medical examiner’s report. Thomas Woodson, a quarterback who went to Gateway High School in the Pittsburgh region, the same school where Turner made a name for himself on the gridiron, was injured in the leg near the knee.
Also in the parking lot were Jaylon Christopher Coleman, Dustin Shane Creel, Robert Lee Foster and Isaiah Thomas Faulk, elite players from western Pennsylvania.
The jury also found Gamez guilty of four counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury related to Woodson’s injury.
Life in prison
Gamez was sentenced to life in prison without possibility for parole, an automatic sentence for first-degree murder verdicts. He got extra time for the assault charges, but was found not guilty of attempted murder of the five others with Turner that night.
Gamez did not address the court after the verdict. His mother and sister left the courtroom with tears in their eyes, declining to comment.
The Turner family stopped outside the courtroom, telling the media how grateful they were for prosecutors and law enforcement officers who had made them feel at home in a city that was far from their residence.
Darrell Turner’s father, also named Darrell Turner, said his family members went into the trial with open minds, willing to be convinced that race was not a factor in their son’s death.
But after hearing the testimony, Turner said, it was difficult to overlook that.
“Unfortunately, race has reared its ugly head again,” Turner said to a group of media.
The father pulled out his phone and showed two photos that were side by side. One was of Darrell Turner, the boy whose dreams of college football were never realized. On the same screen was a picture of Dariah Turner, the 7-month-old girl who never got to meet her big brother.
The family resemblance is striking.
As the family moves on, they say they will not forget a past that brimmed with laughter, promise and hope.
On the anniversary of Darrell Turner’s death, the family holds a fund-raiser and distributes the money to students in the Pittsburgh region who exemplify many of the qualities they cherished in their son. They follow his teammates, many of whom now play in colleges – Akron and Alabama, to name a few.
“You never forget what happened, but it’s all about understanding and believing in God and letting God show you the way,” Darrell Turner said. “His death will not be in vain.”