Elizabeth Zehnder Turpin, who has spent the past 25 years behind bars for the murder of her husband, will remain in prison until at least 2021.
The Kentucky Parole Board denied parole Monday; it will revisit the issue in 10 years. Parole board members cited the seriousness of the crime — the fact that a life was taken and that violence and a deadly weapon were involved — as reasons for the 10-year deferment.
Turpin, 44, was the mastermind behind the Feb. 3, 1986, death of Michael Turpin, 22 of Lexington, to whom she had been married for less than six months. Prosecutors said the motive was $60,000 in life insurance on Michael Turpin that his wife wanted to collect.
Karen Brown and Keith Bouchard, who were accused of carrying out the killing, also have been in prison since 1986. Elizabeth Turpin, Brown and Bouchard met while the trio worked at Superior Nissan on Nicholasville Road. Brown and Elizabeth Turpin purportedly were lovers. The slaying of Michael Turpin, whose body, riddled with stab wounds, was pulled from a pond at Lakeside Golf Course, was one of the state's most sensational murder cases.
All nine members of the parole board deliberated and voted Monday morning at parole board offices in Frankfort, said Kentucky Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb.
Four board members — Monica Edmonds, George Carson and Thomas Whetstone, all of Louisville, and Maria "Sally" Mooney of Frankfort — voted to defer parole consideration for Elizabeth Turpin for 120 months, or 10 years. The two board members from the Lexington area, Chuck Massarone and Shannon Jones, voted for Turpin to serve out her life sentence. Board member Larry Chandler of Oldham County voted to defer parole consideration for 72 months. Board chairman Verman Winburn of Shelby County and board member Caroline Mudd of Lebanon voted for a 60-month deferment.
Don Turpin, Michael Turpin's father, said he was extremely happy about Monday's decision.
"She'll have to sit there and think about this some more," he said.
Said Margaret Winstandley, Michael Turpin's mother: "I'm glad she got the 10 years. That's better than nothing. But we really wish they'd done a serve-out," meaning Elizabeth Turpin would stay in prison for life.
Turpin, who is housed at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia, was interviewed last week by parole board members Edmonds and Carson. It was the first time Turpin, who was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole after 25 years, was before the parole board. But Edmonds and Carson apparently could not reach an agreement, so they decided to defer the matter to the full board.
The parole board's handling of Turpin's case was similar to its handling of Brown's case earlier this month. The board denied parole for Brown and decided she should not come before the board for five years. The sentence Brown was handed in 1986 was the same as that for Turpin. Bouchard, who received a life sentence, has been before the parole board twice and was denied parole both times. He is scheduled to go before the board again in 2018.
Turpin told the parole board last week that she was remorseful. She said she had earned two associate degrees while she's been incarcerated and has been working on a bachelor's degree. She said she started a service dog training program at the prison. She said, if released, she would like to work for Catholic Charities in Louisville.
Family and friends of Michael Turpin have spoken out against the release of Elizabeth Turpin, Brown and Bouchard for years, before decisions on appeals have been made by courts and before the parole board has made decisions. In late January, several family members and friends met with the parole board and begged its members not to release Turpin and Brown. Nearly 5,000 people had signed a petition against the women being released, they said.
Winstandley said she wished people were able to "read" Turpin. There are a lot of people who think Turpin is innocent, she said.
"She's very manipulative, and she can stand there and tell total lies, and they believe her," she said. "She sets things up so that everybody else takes the fall. She doesn't dirty her own hands."
With Monday's decision, "We can put this to bed now for another five years," said Don Turpin. That's when Brown will be eligible for parole again.
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.