Even at age 4, Jessika James knew not to scream.
Experience had taught her that her cries only excited his rage.
This night was no different. Richard “Ricky” Turner II, Jessika’s mother’s boyfriend, pulled her by the hair off the couch where she slept near Turner’s 4-year-old son Noah. He grabbed her by her feet, ripped off her pajama bottoms and underpants. Her offense: She wet herself in her sleep.
There were others in the house who didn’t try to help Jessika. “She never made a sound,” said a man who was there using drugs with Turner, “ but she had tears in her eyes.”
No one intervened, even after Turner spent 45 minutes behind a locked bathroom door with Jessika. Not two men there to buy drugs from Turner, then 32. Not Jessika’s mother, Brandi James. They later told police they were too afraid of Turner.
No one knew what happened to Jessika in the bathroom that night in June 2009.
A few weeks later, Jessika was dead.
During the nearly yearlong investigation into Jessika’s death, Illinois State Police Agent Gwen Basinger had turned up allegations of sexual abuse of four underage girls by Turner. Two were teenage girls, ages 15 and 16. Two were younger. Some of the allegations dated back 15 years.
One victim, who was 18 in 2010, said Turner had raped her five times over a two-year period, beginning when she was 8. Another woman, then 27, told Basinger that Turner began having sex with her when she was 11.
It isn’t clear whether a call to the police about Turner’s conduct would have saved Jessika.
The mother of the girl who was molested beginning when she was 8, a former girlfriend of Turner’s, said she reported the incident about her daughter to police after she learned about it in 2000. Turner, then 23, already had a conviction for arson. He was on “intensive probation” for that crime during the time prosecutors said the rape occurred. Eldorado police and the Saline County Sheriff’s Department said they don’t have a record of the report.
Turner was charged with Jessika’s murder on April 7, 2010.
Two months later, Saline County State’s Attorney Michael Henshaw charged Turner with predatory criminal sexual assault. Over the next year, Henshaw and his assistant prosecutor, Eva Walker, charged Turner with 10 more sex offenses. The sex crime victims didn’t include Jessika. Not enough evidence.
At the funeral for the little girl who loved Dora the Explorer and Hannah Montana, Jessika wore a pink and white dress that a relative bought for the funeral. Bald patches on her head were covered by a bandana. Her lips were closed against her teeth that had rotted. Stuffed animals and dolls were tucked into the casket beside her, as if she were asleep.
For Brandi James, then 28, this marked the loss of her third child. She gave up custody of two of Jessika’s siblings. In October 2007, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was called after Brandi James was found unconscious and tested positive for methamphetamine. Under an agreement with DCFS so she could keep Jessika, Brandi took parenting classes and went into treatment for her drug addiction. Jessika and Brandi lived with Jessika’s great-grandmother.
In November 2008, the case was closed and the social workers stopped coming. A few weeks later, Brandi moved into Turner’s home on Gandertown Road.
Those who knew Jessika said she changed after the move. Once happy and smiling, the little girl grew quiet and cried often. Potty-trained for years, she began to wet her bed. Jessika’s regression angered Turner, according to a review of investigative reports and court records.
Jessika told her mother that Turner “made her eat her poop” after she defecated in her pants. And then there was Turner’s demand that he be the one to bathe Jessika. The nightly ritual occurred behind a locked door and sometimes ended with Jessika screaming, a roommate said.
On June 20, 2009, Jessika was taken by ambulance to Ferrell Hospital in Eldorado. Her injuries were too severe for the rural hospital to handle, and she was transferred to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Jessika had been struck so hard that her brain shifted in her skull. She underwent surgery, but never regained consciousness. Two days later, Jessika died.
During the autopsy, a pathologist detailed her injuries: a broken back, a fatal head injury. Jessika weighed just 32 pounds. She had large bald patches on her head and lice, scabies and rotten teeth. The pathologist also checked for sexual abuse, but found no clear evidence that Turner had molested her.
It became clear that although Turner faced murder charges, he would also fight the sex cases. Turner’s lawyer, Morgan Scroggins, battled to keep the molestation of the 8-year-old girl separate from the other allegations. He argued in court documents that the other victims, including the 11-year-old, were different because they were “in a relationship” with Turner.
“The comparison of the alleged victim and the other three relationships is equivalent to comparing Republicans and Democrats, apples and oranges, Christians and atheists,” Scroggins wrote in a motion.
The 11-year-old victim, identified only as “BNM,” Scroggins wrote, was no longer a virgin when she became involved with Turner in a consensual relationship. He didn’t mention the girl had been molested by her stepfather, a convicted methamphetamine dealer. At 14, the victim had a baby fathered by Turner, then 20.
The two teenage victims detailed violent incidents in their relationships. One said Turner beat, then raped her at gunpoint. Although as Scroggins claimed in court documents, they willingly engaged in sexual relations with Turner, under Illinois law, sexual consent may not be given by a minor.
Turner was fighting sex charges on multiple fronts while Basinger was investigating allegations of other crimes in neighboring counties. With no physical evidence that Turner molested Jessika, Henshaw prepared a first-degree murder case that did not mention sexual assault. The judge barred testimony about the pending sex charges involving the other four victims.
On Feb. 15, 2012, Turner folded. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Jessika’s death and to the rape of his youngest victim, the 8-year-old girl. He got 20 years for Jessika’s murder and 22 years for the rape, to be served consecutively.
The victims’ sense of justice lasted two days. Turner and Scroggins filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and it was granted. The sex charges were reinstated.
Preparations for the murder trial began. A flurry of court motions were filed. A trial began on March 13, 2013. Nine days later, a Saline County jury returned a guilty verdict on the first-degree murder charge against Turner. He was sentenced to life in prison. Turner appealed; the appeal is pending.
Henshaw decided not to pursue the sex cases against Turner. He declined to say why.
Today, Turner is 37, and his victims are now adults. They all have children of their own. The 17-month-old daughter of one victim drowned. “BNM” was sexually assaulted by another boyfriend in their apartment in Evansville, Ind., in 2011, police say. She was pregnant at the time. He was never charged.
There may have only been one person who saw what happened to Jessika the night she was killed — Turner’s son, Noah, who would now be 8. Basinger questioned him about what happened that night. He said he couldn’t remember.
“Jessika is with Jesus where she needs to be,” the boy replied.