A man serving a twenty five year prison sentence in a 2002 DeKalb County murder case could be a free man within a year.
After a hearing Thursday morning, Tim Gobble, a member of the Tennessee Board of Parole, voted to parole 42 year old Melvin Eugene Turnbill provided he successfully completes a nine to twelve month substance abuse program called "Therapeutic Community" while still in prison. The file now goes to the other parole board members, who will review it and cast their votes. Three matching votes are needed for a final decision in this case. The hearing was held at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, where Turnbill is incarcerated. Gobble was not at the prison. He presided by video conference from another location.
WJLE was the only media represented at the prison covering Thursday's hearing.
In September 2003, Turnbill received a twenty five year sentence after pleading guilty in DeKalb County Criminal Court to facilitating the first degree murder of Joshua Murphy
Murphy was shot and killed in a secluded area in the Laurel Hill Community at the end of Old Eagle Creek Road on Sunday, September 15, 2002. His body was discovered three days later. Officials said Turnbill and a co-defendant, Christopher Nicholas Orlando suspected Murphy of stealing methamphetamine. Orlando, the triggerman in the killing, was tried and convicted of the crime by a DeKalb County Criminal Court Jury in April, 2004. Orlando, serving a 45 year prison sentence for facilitation of first degree murder, is incarcerated at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tennessee. Orlando was denied parole following a hearing in March, 2013. He will be up for parole again in 2016.
Turnbill's sentence is due to expire on October 15, 2022. He has served eleven years and seven months of the term. This was Turnbill's second parole hearing. He was denied release two years ago following his last hearing due to the seriousness of the offense.
In making his plea for parole, Turnbill told Gobble that he has a new outlook on life. "I believe I have changed. I believe my attitude has changed. I know for sure that I'm not going back in any kind of drug activity. I know I can honestly say that. I have completed HVAC (training) which would be a good trade for me to get into. I just wish I could be given a second chance," said Turnbill
"What about your propensity for drug use? The meth, marijuana and maybe alcohol? That seems to be a real difficulty for you at least in the past. What are the chances in the future of you avoiding those substance abuse problems," asked Gobble.
"It's a real good chance for me to avoid them," responded Turnbill
"How do I know that?"asked Gobble.
"I don't know what to tell you to convince you except I know in myself. I've had plenty of opportunities to be around it (drugs) here (prison) and I've avoided it. I don't want it no where around me. I don't want it in my life. I know what it's cost me," said Turnbill.
If granted parole, Turnbill plans to live with his mother Glenda Turnbill in Smithville. "I have been here for him ever since he has been in prison. I have been here throughout his whole process. I think he has matured quite a bit. I'm really glad to see the progress that he has made as far as the turnaround of his attitude. His attitude has changed tremendously to what it had been before. I think he is ready to move on with his life and I think he could become a productive citizen of society," said Mrs. Turnbill who spoke at the parole hearing.
Carol Darrah, a friend of Mrs Turnbill, also spoke in favor of parole. "I don't really know Melvin but I know his mother really well. We go to church with her and she has talked to me about Melvin from time to time. I've been impressed with the programs that he has completed. I think that is commendable. I know he will have a good home to go to. She has told me that he has completed several series of Bible correspondence courses through our church. I think that is commendable. I would just like to say that I would like to see him get this second chance in life," said Darrah.
Classified as a minimum security prisoner, Turnbill's record while in prison reveals that he has had six institutional disciplines, but none since 2012. Turnbill was caught with marijuana in his possession three years ago and in a separate case the same year, Turnbill tested positive for marijuana use during a drug screen. Turnbill says he no longer has a drug problem.
While in prison, Turnbill said he has participated in or completed several rehabilitative programs including career and anger management, thinking for a change, and TRICOR, a program that provides occupational and life skills training for inmates through job training, program opportunities, and transitional services designed to assist offenders with a successful reintegration into society.
Turnbill, a user and producer of methamphetamine at the time of the murder, said it was never his intent for Murphy to be killed. He only meant to scare him into giving back the meth oil Murphy stole from him.
On Saturday, September 14, 2002, Turnbill claims he, his friend Robin Baker, and Murphy went to Back Bone Ridge to go camping which is near where the murder took place. He said Murphy brought along his camping tent and poles. According to Turnbill the main reason he wanted to go there was to finish cooking some meth he had started working on the day before. Later that night, the three of them went back to Baker’s residence.
Sometime during the night, Turnbill said he became upset with Murphy for smoking dope in front of everybody and acting disrespectfully. He said Murphy eventually left after being asked to leave because of his behavior. Orlando showed up and stayed the night.
Turnbill said the next morning he discovered a jar of meth oil was missing from his truck and suspected Murphy of stealing it. He then awoke Orlando and told him. "When I discovered it (meth oil) was gone I woke him (Orlando) and told him it was gone. When I told him it was gone, he said "come with me and I'll show you how to get your evens" (get even). We got in the car and he (Orlando) said he knew a couple of places where Josh would probably be. When he (Orlando) located him, I sat in the car and he (Orlando) went in and said he needed him (Murphy) to go buy him a bag of marijuana. He and Josh came back out to the car and went back over to Robin's (home). Over there, Chris asked him (Murphy) if he wanted to help us finish up this dope (meth) that Melvin started cooking the day before. He said yes. Chris said we'll go back to Backbone (Ridge). He (Orlando) asked us to meet him over there. Josh got in the truck with me and Chris left in his car. Me and Josh went to Backbone and waited for Chris. After Chris showed up, he (Orlando) said lets go over to another site (nearby). When we went to the other site, I asked Josh to set everything up on the tailgate (of the truck). He said okay. Chris then told me I've got the gun in the car (Turnbill's 12 gauge shotgun). Do you want me to do it or do you want to do it?"
"So Josh was lured to the campground basically for the intent of murdering him. Is that correct?," asked Gobble.
"No sir. The intent was to scare him and to get my stuff back. There was never no talk about killing, murder, or nothing like that. There was never no discussion of that. That never took place," Turnbill replied.
Turnbill said he took the shotgun from the car in an attempt to intimidate Murphy and then handed the weapon to Orlando who did the shooting. "I pulled the gun out and asked him (Murphy) where my stuff was. Chris said I've already got your stuff, it's over there (pointing to a location at the scene). He (Orlando) told Josh to go over there and get it. Josh was running around the truck. That's when Chris told me to give him the gun. I handed him the gun and he said go over there and get your stuff. Josh said I'm not going over there. Chris said yes you are going over there and getting that. We both started walking over there. I stopped and Josh kept going over there to pick up the jar (meth oil). When he (Murphy) took a couple more steps, that's when Chris started to shoot. When he shot, Josh turned around and knocked Chris down and took off running. Chris got up and kept shooting. When the shooting stopped, I went back over to my truck. Chris told me to go check him (Murphy) to see if he was dead. I told him no. I didn't bother to pack anything up. I just shut the tailgate and left," he said.
Turnbill then fled to Kentucky where he was found and arrested. Turnbill claims he had come to his senses and was on his way back home when he was apprehended with components of his meth lab still in the bed of his truck. " After I went to Owensboro, Kentucky and started to realize what all had transpired I started coming back to Tennessee. I'd lost (spent) all my money on the way back and that's when I was apprehended in Cave City, Kentucky (for having the meth lab in the truck)," said Turnbill.
Asked why he pled guilty in the case if he had nothing to do with the murder, Turnbill told Gobble "I was told it didn't matter if I'd shot him or not, I was just as guilty as the person who had done it because I was at the scene and I was involved in it," he said.
In announcing his decision, Gobble said he would only vote to parole Turnbill if he completes the Substance Abuse Therapeutic Community program. "Mr. Turnbill you have served 11-1/2 years. You are 42 years of age and it's time for you to grow up and take some responsibility and I think that you can. I am going to vote to parole you today on a condition that you complete successfully therapeutic community. I will set a parole date upon completion of therapeutic community and that could be a year from now depending upon its availability and whether you can get in there. But I think it's important because of your past drug history that you complete that program successfully. I think if you can do that, it will show me and the other board members that you have the potential to be successful in the free world. You have got to stay away from drugs and alcohol abuse and that is the only way I'm going to support letting you out (paroling you) is for you to get in that program which I think will be good for you. That's my vote, to parole you with a pre-condition of completing therapeutic community successfully. You must also have no more institutional (disciplinary) write ups. No more problems. No (drug) possessions. No policy violations," he said.
Gobble also added a post parole condition. "That you (Turnbill) get substance abuse treatment as assessed and a substance abuse aftercare program of your choice to participate in until completion even once out of prison. To me, that looks like that has been your problem. Your downfall is meth, marijuana, and alcohol abuse. If we can do something to help you avoid those I think you've got a potential to be successful in the free world and make something out of yourself from here on out. As someone has said, you are worth giving a second chance to see if you succeed. Once you are in the Therapeutic Community program, it will take nine to twelve months to complete it successfully. If you complete it and avoid any A or B disciplinary actions while incarcerated, then you will be released at that time. You will have met the pre-parole conditions. Otherwise, we will have to hear you again (another parole hearing). But you have the potential of being released in about a year with those successful preconditions, but there has to be three votes in agreement. You will know in one, two, or three weeks as to what the final vote of the board is,"Gobble concluded.
While no one showed up at Thursday's hearing to speak in opposition to Turnbill being parole, Gobble noted that " there is a petition opposing parole in the file".