Secoriea Turner case: Defendant’s criminal history can be introduced, court rules

The Georgia Court of Appeals sided with Fulton County prosecutors this week in ruling that evidence of previous crimes can be used against one of the men charged in Secoriea Turner’s killing.

The 8-year-old was fatally shot at a makeshift roadblock in southwest Atlanta on July 4, 2020. The Jeep she and her mother were riding in encountered an armed group near the burned-out Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by a police officer less than a month earlier.

Two alleged gang members, Julian Conley and Jerrion McKinney, were later charged in the rising third-grader’s slaying. Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain behind bars as they await trial, court records show. Conley is 22 years old; McKinney is 25.

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On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals reversed a Fulton judge’s decision to keep certain evidence of “prior criminal gang activity” allegedly committed by McKinney from being introduced in the case.

According to the ruling, the state plans to bring up a February 2016 incident in which McKinney allegedly shot himself in the foot before hiding a pistol in some bushes; a May 2015 incident in which he was accused of bringing a stolen gun to school in Hazelwood, Missouri, and pointing it at a classmate’s head; and an April 2017 robbery in which he allegedly stole an iPhone 7 from two victims at gunpoint.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Fulton County Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe ruled evidence of the alleged robbery could be introduced at trial, but denied the state’s request to bring up the first two incidents. The Court of Appeals decision reverses that pre-trial ruling, allowing prosecutors to introduce all three incidents as evidence of McKinney’s alleged gang ties.

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In a statement, Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis praised the appeals court’s decision.

“Fighting gang violence is a top priority for me, especially in a tragic case of the murder of an innocent child,” Willis said through her spokesman. “We appealed in this matter to fight for the principle that the jury should hear the evidence of the defendant’s history of gang violence. We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has issued a significant decision upholding that principle in this case and for other cases statewide.”

Prosecutors have accused Conley of firing the shots that killed Turner, but said McKinney was also among the group of armed people who occupied the site of the Wendy’s in the weeks that followed Brooks’ high-profile police killing. In court filings, the state contends McKinney attempted to pursue the family’s vehicle through traffic that night as they rushed Turner to the hospital.

Prosecutors say McKinney is a member of the Knot Boyz Gang, an alleged hybrid street gang from the St. Louis area. The group includes individuals from various Bloods gangs and is led by McKinney’s older brother, the state alleges.

A trial date has not been set, the DA’s office said Thursday.