In the small, close-knit world of dirt track racing, at places like Stateline Speedway in Busti, Quincy Turner was a big name.
He also was a suspect in a high-profile drug case and, by some accounts, a government informant secretly cooperating with federal agents.
Prosecutors say it’s the latter that got the race car driver killed, but a federal court jury found otherwise Friday.
Six years after Turner was gunned down outside his Chautauqua County repair shop, the four men accused of conspiring to kill him were found not guilty of charges that could have sent them away for life.
Jose Martinez, the lead defendant in the case and the man accused of issuing the contract to silence Turner, was among those acquitted. He was found guilty of a related drug charge.
“I wasn’t shocked at all,” said defense lawyer Andrew C. LoTempio. “I don’t think the government had the proof as far as the motivation for the killing.”
LoTempio, who represented co-defendant Carlos A. Canales, said there’s no question Turner was killed, but it was the motive behind the killing that was difficult for the government to prove.
He said the prosecution fell short in making the case that Turner was murdered because he was an informant. For that reason, he thinks the government was wrong to try the case in federal court instead of state court.
“We presented the best case possible,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas S. Duszkiewicz. “And the jury has spoken as far as their view of the evidence.”
Defense lawyers think the jury also had trouble finding evidence linking Martinez to the other defendants involved in the alleged conspiracy, including Angel Luis Marcial.
“My argument to the jury was, ‘If you can find that evidence, convict him,’ ” said Angelo Musitano, Marcial’s lawyer.
The jury verdict follows an eight-week trial that shed new light on what happened that day in late May of 2008.
Prosecutors say Turner, a well-known figure around the Western New York dirt track scene, was working in his Town of Ellicott repair shop, a vacant fire station near the Jamestown airport, when four unwanted visitors suddenly showed up to see him.
During the trial, Duszkiewicz argued that Canales and Felix J. Vasquez were among the four and that it was Vasquez who fired the shots that killed Turner.
He told the jury the four men were there to carry out Martinez’s contract, a $20,000 hit job on a man Martinez was convinced was “snitching” on him.
“He pays people to do his dirty work,” Duszkiewicz said of Martinez during his summation. “Unfortunately, his dirty work included the murder of Quincy Turner.”
To prove his point, he called Juan DeJesus Santiago to the witness stand. Santiago had previously admitted taking part in the conspiracy by helping Martinez recruit people who would do the contract killing. Santiago is currently awaiting sentencing.
The defense countered by suggesting their clients never went to Jamestown looking to kill someone.
They pointed to the men’s visit to a convenience store, where they were recorded talking loudly and yelling each other’s names, and their run-in with a deer on their way back to Rochester. One of the them called their insurance company while at the scene of the accident.
“That is not the conduct of people looking to kill someone,” said defense lawyer Matthew R. Lembke. “There is reasonable doubt about what happened and how it happened.”
The acquittals follow a four-year prosecution that started as a death penalty case, in large part because of Turner’s role as a confidential informant. Prosecutors say he was prepared to give up Martinez as the primary source of cocaine Turner sold in and around Jamestown.
The government eventually dropped its pursuit of the death penalty but, for Musitano, the prospect was frightening given that each defendant was eventually acquitted.
“That is the danger of the death penalty,” he said. “It just goes to show, you never know. Which is why we should end the death penalty.”
Martinez will be sentenced on the drug charge at a later date.