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Guilty plea in 1999 murder closes cold case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A murder case that went unsolved since 1999 reached a conclusion with a guilty plea in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Monday.

Daniel Turner, 46, a federal prisoner in Memphis, Tenn., pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the death of 41-year-old Terry Clark of Lewis Street in Charleston. Police said DNA evidence finally linked him to the crime.

Clark's nude body was discovered May 27, 1999 beside U.S. 119 near Walton in Roane County. Charleston police found her apartment had been broken into, but were never able to find her murderer. The crime was added to a list of cold cases.

In court Monday, Assistant Prosecutor Reagan Whitmyer told a judge that a national DNA database linked DNA collected in 1999 to Turner's. A Charleston detective traveled to Memphis and secured a confession.

Clark's family members expressed gratitude to police and prosecutors, but said the woman's father died without ever knowing who killed her or why.

"We did doubt that it would ever be solved. It has been so long," said Clark's cousin, Sally Bergur of Institute. "Over the years people would come up and say so-and-so murdered Terry, and it was hard.

"She was a vital part of our family," Bergur said. "And we loved her. What happened to her was incomprehensible."

Whitmyer told Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky that Turner admitted that he went to Clark's residence hoping to do a drug deal, but instead the other party pulled a gun on him. Believing Clark had set him up, he turned on her and beat her, and then strangled her with a shoelace.

He dumped the body in Roane County, about 12 miles from where he was living with his father, she said. 

In exchange for Turner's guilty plea, Whitmyer will recommend a 30-year sentence to be served concurrently with his penalty for weapons and drug violations. But the judge could sentence him from 10 to 40 years.

Turner will be sentenced Aug. 29.

Bergur said she forgave the man long ago.

"More for ourselves than for him," she said.

She had advice for others in similar situations who still don't have answers to missing or murdered family.

"Be patient. Pray. Wait. And forgive," Bergur said.

Charleston Police Department's Chief of Detectives Lt. Steve Cooper said advances in profiling criminals by way of DNA evidence, and a national database, is the reason Turner can now be prosecuted for Clark's murder.

Cooper said, "This case has been worked from the beginning to its conclusion. The crime was violent. And we have always been interested in getting justice for her and her family. We were very excited when we were notified of the DNA match.

"Not every case has DNA," Cooper said. "But we are developing new technologies to retrieve DNA from crime scenes."

Whitmyer, too, credited the DNA match for the outcome of the case.

"The police worked so hard on this case for so many years," Whitmyer said. "They eliminated so many suspects. But without that federal database we would not be here, and that didn't even exist in 1999.

"This never would have been solved," she said. "Because he didn't confess until a detective went down there."

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.

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