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Guilty plea in poisoning

PROVO — A former Brigham Young University student accused of trying to poison his pregnant wife has pleaded guilty to four counts of attempted aggravated murder.

Paul Turner, who was an employee of the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center before his arrest, on Friday changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in Provo's 4th District Court.

As part of a plea deal negotiated with the Utah County Attorney's Office, three of the four counts will be reduced from second-degree felonies to third-degree felonies when he is sentenced.

In court Friday, Turner appeared calm and answered all of Judge Anthony Schofield's questions. The judge advised Turner that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial and that it was his right to have a trial before a jury.

Turner acknowledged he was waiving those rights to plead guilty.

"Paul, right from the start, has taken responsibility for this," said Tom Means, Paul Turner's attorney, after the hearing. "He went to his (LDS) bishop and then he went to police."

Turner's parents also were in court Friday. They came from California to support their son.

Kay Turner, his father, said his son is a confused young man who needs therapy.

"He's a great kid. We just want him to be out and to get the help that he needs," he said.

Turner's sentencing is scheduled for May 12. However, on that day, Means plans to ask the court to approve a mental evaluation, which will take 60 days to complete.

After turning himself into police Oct. 28, Turner was charged with four first-degree felony counts of attempted aggravated murder.

Turner, reportedly acting on the advice of his LDS bishop, allegedly told Provo police officers that he tried on several occasions to poison his pregnant wife.

According to police, Paul Turner wanted to kill his wife because she would not approve of his pornography habit.

Police say he confessed to giving his wife cookies he laced with rat poison.

And Turner allegedly switched Sarah Turner's medication, which she was taking by injection to reduce the risk of blood clots during her pregnancy, with fish-tank cleaner.

Turner also reportedly told police that he cooked a spaghetti dinner using mushrooms he thought were poisonous.

All attempts were unsuccessful, and Sarah Turner and the child were not seriously hurt.

Jeff Buhman, deputy Utah County attorney, said the plea deal was struck because there was a chance the judge would toss out key evidence: Paul Turner's confession.

Without the confession, he said, they would have had to drop the charges.

Means had asked the judge to make Paul Turner's confession inadmissable in court. He said his client had a right against self-incrimination.

Sarah Turner filed for divorce last month. She wants full custody of their child.

According to her petition for divorce, Sarah Turner said her husband was an unfit parent due to the attempts on her life and his pornography habit.

She is also seeking a protective order against him.

A hearing on the divorce has been scheduled for April 15 before 4th District Commissioner Thomas Patton.


E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com