A former Tory councillor on trial in France for killing his wife by running her over with his Mercedes has denied manslaughter, telling a court he didn’t see her in the driveway and only realised what had happened afterwards.
David Turtle, 67, appeared in before magistrates in Cahors, southwest France, on Wednesday charged with aggravated manslaughter over the death of wife Stephanie at their home in Prayssac in March 2017.
Prosecutors alleged that 50-year-old Stephanie had laid down in front of Turtle’s car to stop him leaving after an argument which began over what TV programme to watch, and that he had knowingly run over her.
She suffered fatal injuries including multiple rib fractures, a broken collarbone, broken shoulder bone, lesions in her lungs, abdominal trauma and a fractured pelvis.
But Turtle denied the allegations, saying he intended to go for a drive after the argument and was unaware that his wife was in front of his two-and-a-half ton Mercedes E-class when he pulled away.
‘I loved my wife,’ he told the court. ‘What happened has broken my heart.’
David Turtle, 67 (right), has appeared in court in southwestern France accused of aggravated manslaughter of wife Stephanie, 50 (left), who was run over and killed at their home
Turtle told the court how he had joined the RAF after school and worked in a shoe shop for 20 years before becoming a car dealer for Peugeot and Mercedes.
He met newly-divorced Stephanie in 1996 on a holiday in Turkey for single people when he was aged 40 and the pair had been ‘drawn to each-other’, he said.
They married shortly afterwards, in 2000, and had settled down near Bournemouth where Turtle became a councillor for the Kinson North ward and Stephanie had worked in Dorset council’s human resources department.
‘Stephanie was the love of my life, it took 40 years to find her,’ he said.
But Stephanie harboured dreams of opening a B&B in France and in 2016 they moved after discovering the ‘perfect’ property, despite it needing ‘a lot of work’.
Turtle told the court that he had been ‘sad’ to leave his life behind, but that his wife’s dreams were more important to him.
Recounting the night of Stephanie’s death, Turtle told the court that the couple began fighting over what TV programme to watch before she went to bed.
He said she came down later in the evening and, to avoid the argument restarting, he had decided to go out for a drive.
Turtle said he heard Stephanie follow him out of the house but hadn’t seen her when he started the engine and drove a few metres.
He then stopped the car and climbed out, and it was only afterwards that he saw her trapped underneath and realised what had happened.
But prosecutors say the argument had restarted and was in full swing by the time Turtle went to leave the house.
They argue that Stephanie either laid down in front of the vehicle in an attempt to stop him leaving and that he had knowingly driven over her, or that she had been knocked unconscious in the row and he had placed her in front of the car.
Major Alain Chauvin, a now-retired police officer who led the investigation, told the magistrates that none of the witnesses his officers questioned believed the death was accidental.
He said there was no way that Stephanie could have got in front of the £37,000 Mercedes without Turtle seeing.
Prosecutors accuse Turtle (right) of deliberately running over Stephanie (left) after an argument, but he says it was an accident and he didn’t know his wife was in the driveway
But defence lawyers hit back, saying there was no hard evidence that the death was either the result of an accident or willful act.
A court psychologist assessed Turtle to be of ‘normal intelligence’ with an ‘obsessional’ psychiatric profile, but otherwise an ‘educated and responsible man’.
Turtle faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty. The trial continues.
In previous accounts given to police, Turtle said the saga began on the evening of March 29, 2017, when the couple got into an argument after dinner.
He said the row was resolved when his wife went to bed, but later resumed when Stephanie came down from the bedroom after midnight to use the toilet.
The former councillor said he wanted to go for a late night drive to calm down, but ‘had a feeling’ he needed to stop as he pulled out.
He got out of the car to find Stephanie trapped under one of the Mercedes’ wheels with two tonnes of metal pressing down into her ribcage, and claimed he had no idea that the car had hit her.
Prosecutors argue that Stephanie’s death was not the result of an accident.
During questioning, the investigating judge, Cybele Ordoqui, said it was unlikely that a woman would put on a bra and get fully dressed before heading downstairs to use the toilet in the middle of the night.
Stephanie was found by police wearing a jacket, two t-shirts and a bra.
Forensic experts also alleged that Mr Turtle would have had to ‘significantly engage the accelerator pedal’ in order to run down and crush his wife, and tyre marks in the gravel driveway of the B&B suggested the car set off very quickly.
‘[Mr Turtle] cannot answer the question why he did not see or hear his wife and has never been able to answer it,’ his indictment said.
In the days following Stephanie’s death, the police also discovered a blog she maintained online about the couple’s journey abroad and their new life in France.
The home of Stephanie and David Turtle in the Prayssac region of France is pictured with the Mercedes E-class, which ultimately crushed Stephanie to death, on the gravel driveway
Mrs Turtle, who was aged 50 at the time of her death, wrote on her blog: ‘I have come to question if I might have slipped from the number one spot of Mr T’s affections … [Our] new Mercedes Benz E-class estate is clearly Mr T’s pride and joy.’
Detectives said Mrs Turtle wrote that her husband ‘put possibly as much effort’ into buying the Mercedes ‘as into the purchase of our new home’.
Referring to the car as ‘she’, Mrs Turtle listed ‘a few examples of why I might be feeling a little put out’, including: ‘She has had more attention lavished on her than most anything else since we arrived in France, with weekly cleans and touches up in between…
‘She is mollycoddled. For example, she can’t be parked within 20 feet of any painting activity. When leaving home, a physical check for traffic in our quiet country lane is required – I have to actually get out of the car.
‘We approach junctions with the utmost caution, both of us straining our necks to check for oncoming traffic and chanting ‘all clear my way’. No eating or drinking is allowed in the car lest we get greasy or sticky marks on her leather interior. The list goes on… ‘
The blog was posted in September 2016, two months after the couple moved to Prayssac, with the intention of turning La Maison Cedre – The Cedar House – into a bed and breakfast.