MINDEN — Prosecutors asked that the same mercy be given to Dustin Scoville and Sharon and Charles Turnell as they showed Landon Payne when they tortured the 4-year-old.
District Judge Stephen Illingworth agreed.
Scoville and the Turnells all received the maximum sentences during their hearings Tuesday in Kearney County District Court for the December 2009 death of Landon Payne, Sharon Turnell’s nephew, who was in Sharon’s care.
Scoville, 24, and Sharon Turnell, 38, each were sentenced to 49 to 50 years in prison for felony attempted child abuse resulting in Payne’s death. With good behavior, they could be eligible for parole in 24½ years and possibly discharged in 25 years.
Charles Turnell, 39, was sentenced to 19 to 20 years in prison for felony attempted child abuse resulting in serious injury. He will be eligible for parole in 9½ years and could be discharged in 10 years.
Scoville and the Turnells each wore flak jackets as they entered the Kearney County courthouse and throughout their hearings.
Payne, 4, died Dec. 22, 2009, from severe blunt force trauma to the head after being transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney.
Scoville and the Turnells claimed Payne received his wounds when he fell from a bunk bed.
It was later revealed Payne suffered long-term abuse while living in the Turnell household.
Illingworth said Tuesday that Scoville “dealt the fatal blow that ultimately killed Landon Payne.”
Deputy state Attorney General Mike Guinan described Payne as a typical boy who loved to laugh and be tickled, and through circumstances beyond his control, he was caught up in “hell on earth” in the Turnell home.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Illingworth said Payne had 40 lacerations and 40 abrasions on his body, and was dehydrated, malnourished and emaciated when he died. Granting Scoville probation would belittle the value of Landon’s life, the judge said.
Guinan said Scoville referred to himself as “the enforcer” and was a frightening individual with a history of violence.
“Could it be that he savagely beat Landon? I don’t think it’s that far fetched. He didn’t like (torture) — he loved it. He loved to torture,” Guinan said. “He hated this kid.”
Public defender Charles Brewster of Kearney said Scoville’s no-contest plea showed he was taking responsibility for his actions. Scoville didn’t speak on his own behalf but did write a letter to the judge.
“I believe he’s remorseful,” Brewster said. “I believe his statement for the court shows that.”
Scoville showed no emotion when his sentence was read, although his mother, Connie Scoville, fled the courtroom weeping.
Guinan said although there was no evidence to indicate Sharon Turnell was directly involved with Payne’s death, she was responsible for the months of abuse beforehand.
“She is the one that orchestrated the cold, calculated, sadistic torture of what she called a ‘very sweet little boy,’” Guinan said.
According to the other seven children in the Turnell household, Sharon encouraged them to pull Payne’s hair, would feed him hot sauce, had him tied down to the bed at night and once made him lick up his own urine.
“I don’t know if she participated directly in the abuse that took place,” Guinan said. “What I do know is that she didn’t do anything to stop it. Landon’s death was inevitable.”
Sharon Turnell’s public defender, Tom Stewart of Kearney, agreed his client didn’t stop the abuse, but disagreed with Guinan’s characterization of her as a “matriarchal puppet master pulling all the strings.”
Stewart said Sharon Turnell had a “horrific” upbringing, and suffered from major depression and co-dependence. Stewart said she was abused physically and sexually during her childhood, and was threatened by Scoville. Stewart argued that because of those factors, as well as her lack of violent criminal history, she should be given a lighter sentence than Scoville.
“You and your husband created an atmosphere of violence for Landon,” he said.
Charles Turnell’s public defender, William Tringe of Holdrege asked for probation for his client, saying Charles Turnell denied carrying out any threats of violence and that Turnell was at work when Payne was abused and died. But Guinan said Charles Turnell was present during many instances of abuse, including putting tacks under Payne’s heels, putting hot sauce in the toddler’s diaper, and threatening to cut off his penis.
Charles Turnell was visibly agitated when Guinan listed the instances of abuse, and several times shook his head no and leaned across his chair to whisper to Tringe.
Guinan also referred to an interview Charles Turnell had with a Nebraska State Patrol investigator where Turnell said the incidents with the tacks, hot sauce and knife were all just jokes and were misunderstood by the children.
“Landon, I’m assuming, didn’t know it was a joke,” Guinan said. “It was mental torture. This is what everyone else in the world would call torture.”
Ilingworth said the sentences for Scoville and the Turnells were designed as a “message to society that treatment of this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.”
The fourth suspect in the case, Landon’s cousin and Dustin Scoville’s ex-wife, Katie Payne, is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to felony intentional child abuse without injury.