Free Courtlon Turner "Champ" Turner: Arrested After Calling 911 to Report an Assult
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We are asking for a complete pardon for Courtlon “Champ” Turner, who was arrested after he called 911 to report that a white man with a butcher knife attacked him. He is serving a ten year sentence.
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Courtlon “Champ” Turner was a barber in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and was a well-loved member of the community by all who knew him. He is also a loving father adored by his children, a gentle and humble, introverted soul. He worked seven days a week at his barber shop, and reports that his favorite part was cutting hair for the indigent and less fortunate. He’d won competitions for his styling and ability to cut hair into photorealistic designs, and said that he did his best work for free on the people who were otherwise unable to afford a cut and shave.
He and his best friend (only close friend) were an odd pair. His friend was an approximately 400 pound white man who also had no other close friends. The friend ordered counterfeit merchandise like shoes, headphones, watches, and purses from China and sold them at flea markets and to people who knew that he had “knock offs.” Champ was his best man at his wedding.
Champ rarely closed his shop early, but one day he did in order to have a barbeque with his best friend whom he feared was feeling isolated. When he arrived, the friend was panicked and paranoid. One of his packages from China had been intercepted at US Customs, and he believed the FBI would soon be raiding him. Champ spent two hours helping the friend move his inventory from flea market storage to his house, trying to support his friend through what appeared to be a mental health crisis.
The friend was trying to find a way to unload his inventory. During this time, Champ took a call from his girlfriend. The friend had been opening packages of counterfeit merchandise with a knife from his butcher block, and during Champ’s phone call, the friend accused Champ of being on the phone as an informant setting him up.
Champ grabbed the first thing he saw-- a liquor bottle-- and used it to defend himself. A great struggle ensued with the two men fighting to control the 8” blade of the knife. At one point, Champ was able to get the knife from his friend’s grip. The man still charged at Champ, and the two struggled for approximately 8 minutes. The friend had two hands on Champ’s hand, and at one point Champ managed to free that hand. As it jerked up, it cut the friend’s neck. Finally, Champ was able to break away to stumble out the front door.
Champ immediately called 911 and sat on the curb, waiting for police. As he did, the attacker stormed around, screaming and swearing at Champ. When police arrived, they arrested Champ and white man was escorted to the hospital. Champ was charged with malicious wounding (later increased to aggravated malicious wounding), and the other man’s statement was not even taken for four days.
The forensic expert witness who examined the evidence said that it all corroborated Champ’s story, but the judge essentially ruled that even if the white man were the aggressor, the extent to which Champ defended himself was “excessive.”
She ruled based on severity of injuries. At sentencing, she said: “This is one of those situations-- and I’m sure I said it at the end of hearing the case-- that you have two people who are best friends. You have a defendant with no real prior record who from the evidence appeared to have gone crazy when these things happened. There is-- the only evidence as to the defendant is that he has been contributing to his community, that he has a nice family, that he has a lot of folks here in his support, but the evidence with the victim are the photographs of all the injuries. I-- again, still haven’t figured out an answer to what happened or why this happened, and I’m sure I never will. I guess it doesn’t really serve any purpose other than trying to figure out how we can stop these things from happening in the future to other people.”
Courtlon “Champ” Turner is in a prison with no air conditioning, so that during the summer, weeks can pass where the temperature never drops below 100 degrees. At times, the heat index is above 120 degrees. Champ has congenital heart disease and needs a loop recording device to monitor his heart.
Further, Champ is believed to be undiagnosed autistic. It is extremely rare for autistic people, especially Black autistic people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to have been diagnosed during childhood. Due to his heart condition, and his inability to recognize signals of danger within his body or attend to his health appropriately, he is at life-threatening risk of not recognizing when he needs medical attention.
Since he has been incarcerated, both of his grandparents-- who raised him and were the parents he knew-- have passed away. He lost the house that he helped his grandfather build as a young child. His father is a well-known bishop and the brother of celebrity hip hop artist Pharrell Williams’s father. He is Pharrell’s first cousin; however, he has not ever had access to that part of his family.
His appeals were denied, essentially, on the grounds that the appellate court could not substitute its own judgement for the judgement of the trial court, even if the evidence was in favor of the defendant.
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