Stepfather denies killing Jahi Turner 14 years ago

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SAN DIEGO -- A man accused of killing his toddler stepson, who went missing  from a Balboa Park-area playground 14 years ago and whose body has never been found, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and child abuse charges.

Tieray Dawayne Jones, 37, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted in the death of 2-year-old Jahi Turner.

A June 21 preliminary hearing was tentatively scheduled for Jones, who was ordered held without bail after a brief hearing before Judge David Szumowski.

Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney told the judge that Jones wasn't in San Diego very long before the toddler went missing in April 2002. Rooney said Jones hasn't been back to San Diego since 2003.

Jones' ties are mostly in Maryland and North Carolina, where his family are friends live, the prosecutor said.

Rooney refused to say what evidence led authorities to arrest Jones last week in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He waived extradition and was booked into jail in San Diego on Saturday.

No family members were in court for Jones' arraignment, the prosecutor said. She wouldn't say if Jahi's mother still lives in San Diego.

The prosecutor said Jones has an extensive criminal record, including convictions for assault with a firearm, trespassing and drug cases, and served a five-year prison sentence in Maryland.

Jones reported Jahi missing on April 25, 2002. At the time, he lived in a Golden Hill apartment with the youngster and the child's 18-year-old mother, Navy sailor Tameka Jones.

Jones told police he had brought his stepson to a park at Cedar and 28th streets, left him with a woman and several other children while he went to get a soda from a nearby vending machine, and returned to find them all gone.

The boy's disappearance prompted weeks of intensive searches of canyons, fields and neighborhoods in the area, as well as a grueling weeklong sweep of the Miramar Landfill.

The efforts turned up no evidence regarding what had become of Jahi, who soon was considered a probable homicide victim.

Seven months after the child vanished, Jones was arrested by a bounty hunter in San Diego and taken to Maryland to face unrelated drug charges.

Throughout the last 14 years, detectives were intent on recovering the child's body as well as finding his killer.

"I think anytime you are able to take a step forward in getting justice for somebody who was murdered, it's a rewarding experience for everybody involved,'' Rooney said outside court.