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A Tennessee man has been sentenced to life in prison for violently stabbing his diner coworker to death days after she had told him she “just wanted to be friends.”
It took the jury less than an hour Thursday to find Gabriel Enrique Turcios guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Savannah Burford, who was stabbed in the back parking lot of the Sunliner Diner in Pigeon Forge on January 8, 2020, according to WBIR.
Burford’s mother, Julia Cutter—who had come to pick her up from the restaurant—watched in horror as her daughter was stabbed repeatedly in the neck by her coworker, staining her white and blue polka dot dress red with blood.
Cutter rushed to try to help her daughter after Turcios had fled the scene, but it was too late and her daughter bled to death.
“I could just lift her. She felt like a piece of paper,” Cutter told the station in an earlier interview. “The blood kept dripping all the way down. … It wouldn’t stop.”
After the verdict was handed down in court Thursday, the jury deliberated briefly again before recommending a life sentence without parole.
"This is truly one of the most atrocious homicides I've seen,” Judge Rex Ogle said, according to WBIR. “There's not a person in this courtroom that hasn't felt for the family and friends of this young woman.”
State prosecutors argued during the two-day trial that Turcios had flown into a “jealous rage” after he confided in Burford that he had a big “crush” on her and she turned down his romantic advances.
“I think we should jut be friends,” she wrote in a text message just days before her death, according to the trial. “I’m sorry to maybe have lead [sic] you on and that wasn’t my intention.”
While prosecutors argued that Turcios had been “fully functional” when he took her life days later, his defense team had tried to argue that he killed her during a moment of insanity.
They pointed to his past medical history, including sickle cell disease and mental health problems, which they said led to his breaking point that night.
His mother took the stand to talk about her son’s need for regular blood transfusions as a result of his sickle cell disease and abuse she said he suffered at the hands of his father early in life. A psychiatrist also testified that sickle cell disease can cause brain dysfunctions.
During an interrogation, Turcios told police he had thought about killing his coworker for days and finally carried out the plan because the devil had made him do it.
He said he “regretted it” after he stabbed her 17 times.
Burford’s family has said in a lawsuit filed after her death that Turcios had been aggressive and had been stalking her in the weeks before she was killed, local state WATE reports.
Jurors saw surveillance footage of the stabbing, which showed Turcios following behind Burford as she left the diner, before he attacked her.
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