By: Ashley Holden
Michael Turney is facing a second-degree murder charge in the presumed death of his stepdaughter, 17-year-old Alissa Turney.
Despite her body never being found and after a bizarre twist in the case, Michael was arrested in 2020.
Opening statements began on Thursday when it was announced that Sarah, Alissa’s sister, would become a key witness.
While she began her testimony on the first day, the majority of her testimony took place on Monday.
“Did you want her out of your life forever?” asked lead prosecutor Vince Imbordino.
“No,” said Sarah.
“Why not?” asked Imbordino.
“Because she took care of me,” said Sarah.
Sarah was emotional as she described her relationship with her sister, adding she still recounts the day Alissa disappeared back in 2001 after reportedly being picked up from school early by their father.
As she got older, Sarah began searching for answers sharing haunting home videos on social media and even starting a podcast called ‘Voices for Justice.’
Sarah told the court she met up with her dad in 2017 hoping to solve the mystery.
“Have you on occasion asked your father what happened to Alissa?” asked Imbordino.
“Many times,” responded Sarah.
“Has he ever given you an answer?” asked Imbordino.
“He told me he would tell me on his deathbed,” said Sarah.
During her testimony, Sarah described a troubled relationship between her dad and Alissa.
She told the court that Michael had hidden cameras to watch his stepdaughter and had been recording phone calls for years.
“How did you become aware of it being in the vent?” asked Imbordino.
“My father told me, ‘Look what I set up – this is to watch your sister, and Alissa is to not know,'” said Sarah.
Yet, apparently, there are no recordings from the day Alissa went missing.
Sarah also told the court her father bought a new truck in the months following Alissa’s disappearance, adding it was the same model as his previous one.
The defense argues that Michael spent his own money and time searching for Alissa.
But on Monday, Sarah could only remember one trip she was a part of where they looked for her sister.
At one point Sarah had told detectives that Alissa’s disappearance consumed Michael, but eventually, as a teenager, Sarah became the family contact for police.
The defense was aggressive with their questions during the cross-examination.
Attorneys tried to paint Alissa as a misbehaving teen, even a partier, who wanted to live her own life.
“You said that Alissa was unpredictable,” said Michael’s attorney.
“Because I believed that at the time,” said Sarah.
She ended up giving that same answer throughout some of the questioning.
Ultimately, she told the court she had repeated things in interviews with police that her dad told her.
“In any of those interviews with Detective Anderson did you say, ‘this is what my dad said?'” asked Micheal’s attorney. “Yes or no?”
“I was brainwashed to believe a certain thing about my sister by my father,” said Sarah.
The state also called Alissa’s friends to the stand and former managers from her time working at Jack-in-the-Box.
The state counts on witnesses and other circumstantial evidence since there is no crime scene.
“It’s hard. It’s not been easy, and I’m just trying to survive it,” said Alissa’s biological father, Stephen Strahm, who has been in court both days.
He tells Scripps News Phoenix he believes Michael is guilty.
Strahm watched as Alissa’s brother, John Turney, began his testimony.
“Just my little sister,” said John when asked to describe Alissa. “She was fun, loving. She was a lot like me as a teenager.”
While the case is moving quickly, John is the state’s fifth witness they have called so far.
He will continue his testimony Tuesday morning.
This story was originally published on July 10, 2023, by KNXV in Phoenix, an E.W. Scripps Company.