Charles H. Turner, former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted high-profile cases

Charles H. Turner

Charles H. Turner, former United States Attorney, District of Oregon, died January 8 at Evergreen Hospice Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. He was six days short of his 82nd birthday. In more than 30 years with the Department of Justice, Turner was the lead prosecutor in several highly-publicized criminal cases. Among these was the prosecution of the American Indian Movement figures Leonard Peltier, Dennis Banks, and Kenneth Loud Hawk in the aftermath of AIM’s occupation of the Wounded Knee site in South Dakota. Turner also tried the first domestic terrorism case in modern American legal history when Frank Giese, a Portland State University professor, hatched a plot to bomb the National Guard armory in Portland as well as several other sites in that city. Perhaps even more celebrated was the case of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and members of his commune located near The Dalles in northern Oregon. In the course of Turner’s investigation he was targeted for assassination by a squad of snipers from the commune.

Turner was born in Chicago to Frederick W. Turner, Jr., a prominent attorney, and Frances Franklin Turner, an interior decorator. Following graduation from Brown University he entered DePaul Law School. After graduating (L.L.B., 1961), he was recommended to Edward V. Hanrahan, United States Attorney for Northern Illinois, by Cook County Democratic power broker, J.J. Duffy. He served under Hanrahan from 1962 until 1965 when he moved with his family to the Portland area where he joined the Justice Department under United States Attorney, Sidney Lezak. When Lezak retired, United States Senator Mark O. Hatfield recommended Turner as his replacement and President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the position in 1982. He was reappointed in 1987.By 1993 Turner and his First Assistant, Jack C. Wong, had compiled a near-perfect record in the cases they brought. Nevertheless, the incoming Clinton administration forced the resignation of all sitting U.S. Attorneys, thus ending Turner’s thirty-one years with the DOJ. Thereafter he served six years as a Circuit Court Judge Pro Tem in various counties in Oregon.

Among Turner’s many awards were the Department of Justice’s Meritorious Service Award and his election to The American College of Trial Lawyers.

Turner’s first wife, Margot, the mother of their two children, Cynthia Turner and Charles Scott Turner, died in 2008. His children survive him as does his second wife, Sharol. Also surviving are his brother, Frederick Turner, and sister, Elizabeth Pochoda, and three grandsons, Xavier Turner, Emmett Turner, and Easton Kugler.

A memorial service will be held at Westlake Chapel, Edmonds, at noon, Saturday January 20.

In lieu of flowers, a donation could be made to Samaritan’s Purse or your local Humane Society.

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