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Convicted murderer found guilty of mailing powder-filled letter to judge

Robert D. Turner was found guilty of sending the letter to the law office of John P. Corderman

December 16, 2010|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A convicted murderer who sent a powder-filled letter to a former judge who had previously been the victim of a mail bomb was sentenced to five more years in prison after a jury convicted him Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court of manufacturing a phony destructive device.

Robert D. Turner, 38, an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution, was found guilty of sending the letter to the law office of former judge John P. Corderman in November or early December of 2008.

Corderman was injured in December 1989 when a pipe bomb sent to his home exploded, according to published reports.

Turner, who cut off part of his ear earlier this year, testified he sent the letter, filled with crushed Tylenol, not to frighten Corderman, but to bring attention to a motion to modify his 50-year sentence for first-degree murder.

"I figured he'd press charges, and I'd finally talk to someone from the Public Defender's Office," Turner testified.

"Inhale deeply, Jean. The pipe bomb did not get you. This will," Turner wrote in the letter postmarked Nov. 17, 2008.

"The powder scared the hell out of me," Corderman testified,  saying he at first thought it might be anthrax. "Then I noted the return address."

The return address was to the prison and had Turner's name and inmate number, according to court records.

Maryland's correctional system might have some security problems, Corderman testified, "but I don't think weaponized anthrax would be easy to come by."

Corderman testified he did not immediately call police until he learned of a similar incident in another state. Hagerstown Police Department Detective Nicholas Varner testified he went to Corderman's office on Dec. 10, 2008.

The former judge testified he never had any dealings with Turner as a judge or attorney and never saw him until Thursday morning.

Assistant Public Defender Carl F. Creeden told the jury that Turner's intent in writing the letter was not to terrorize, threaten or harass Corderman, calling it "a delusional way of trying to get attention for himself."

Turner would likely be called to testify to that and his long-standing mental health issues, he told the jury.

"I cut a good part of my left ear off earlier this year and flushed it," Turner testified when Creeden asked if he had harmed himself in recent years. "I got the idea by reading about (artist) Vincent Van Gogh. I thought I'd do it myself," he later testified.

Turner also testified that he studied Native American religion and was now studying Judaism and maintaining a kosher diet.

In an earlier age, people like Turner would be in mental hospitals, not prisons, Creeden said. He asked the jury to also consider that Corderman waited for a period of days or weeks before calling police about the letter.

Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion told the jury it was irrelevant when Corderman called police, whether the powder in the letter was toxic, or whether Turner cut off his own ear.

Turner was competent enough to know Corderman's history, write the letter, put the powder in it and mail it off, she said.

Prior to sentencing, Judge Daniel P. Dwyer said Turner's primary motive might not have been to terrorize Corderman, but that was the result of his actions.

Turner is in prison for the 1994 stabbing death of Mark Todd Lowery of Hagerstown, court documents said. He confessed to a pastor and police after another man was erroneously charged with the killing, the statement of probable cause said.

In 1996, Turner sent a threatening letter to the sentencing judge in that case, Frederick C. Wright III. His subsequent conviction for threatening a state official added three years to his prison sentence.

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