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Death review blames child welfare

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 4:30 a.m.

Child welfare officials in Newfoundland, Canada, failed to protect 13-month-old Zachary Turner, who died in a murder-suicide with his mother as she faced returning to Westmoreland County to stand trial for the murder of her baby's father, according to a government report.

A 1,110-page report released Wednesday by Dr. Peter Markesteyn, coroner of Newfoundland and Labrador, concluded authorities did not properly investigate the background or mental stability of Dr. Shirley Turner before allowing her to retain custody of her son.

Turner, 42, was clutching her son when she threw herself off a wharf and into the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland in 2003 as she awaited trial in the death of Dr. Andrew Bagby, a resident at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital.

Zachary was the child of Turner and Bagby, who had a relationship until Turner shot Bagby five times during a meeting at Keystone State Park in Derry Township on Nov. 5, 2001. Turner, who also held Canadian citizenship, fled to Newfoundland. She was freed from jail on bail there while she waged a legal fight to avoid returning to Greensburg and a possible life in prison.

"I'm sure this child-death review would not have happened if we had not screamed long and loud right after Zachary's murder," said David Bagby, of Sunnyvale, Calif., Andrew Bagby's father.

In an interview with the St. John's Telegram, Bagby said the charge against Turner was accorded "blase treatment by the legal system."

"It seems almost ludicrous to point it out that a murderer is dangerous, and the authorities just don't treat it that way.

"The rights of the accused (are) to presumption of innocence, bail, and they just push it ... beyond logic and allow what happened to happen," David Bagby told the Telegram.

Markesteyn said, "Zachary was in the care of his mother when he should not have been."

He conducted 150 interviews and amassed 100,000 documents in probing the circumstances that began with Bagby's murder to the handling of the case by child welfare officials in St. John's.

Markesteyn charged that Turner resorted to "fables and fabrications to mislead and manipulate the justice system."

He said Turner's personality was similar to a "jigsaw puzzle," but "the pieces never connected" for authorities.

Markesteyn said if a proper evaluation had been made, "it would have portrayed a woman who, throughout her adult life, frequently functioned outside the lines of socially and legally acceptable behavior and, consequently, posed a significant risk to her children's best interests."

He said child-protection advocates could have obtained her psychiatric history from her psychiatrist. If they had, they could have evaluated "any present or future implications of Dr. Turner's mental health on the well-being of Zachary."

Instead, Markesteyn found no communications between the authorities and Turner's physician.

"What remains particularly troubling to me is the failure of the community and psychiatric services to consult with one another," he wrote. "Clearly, the impetus for such consultation should come from the community services system.

"Nevertheless, I would have expected that within the psychiatric services, there might be some concern for the safety and security of a child as young as Zachary."

Turner grew up in poverty in Newfoundland and became a chemistry teacher before going to medical school.

By the time she started studying medicine, she had been divorced twice, had three children and had attempted suicide over failed relationships, according to the report.

In one instance, she followed a former boyfriend from Halifax to eastern Pennsylvania. The man came home one day to find an unconscious Turner wearing a black dress and clutching a bouquet of roses.

Beside her was a suicide note that read:

"I'm not evil, just sick."

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