NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. -- The man investigators have long believed to be connected to the disappearance and death of a local man last fall now faces a murder charge.
James Perry Turnage Jr., has been held on a grand theft charge since his arrest last fall, but today faces a charge of second degree murder for the death of Kirk Westfall.
Westfall was reported missing in October, and his body was found on Christmas Eve.
Turnage, a man who had reportedly been living on Westfall's property after being released from prison, was immediately wanted as a person of interest, but he disappeared.
A nationwide search ensued when Turnage managed to escape capture in South Carolina, where he was seen driving Westfall's vehicle.
The FBI eventually caught up with Turnage in New Jersey, where there happened to be a warrant for his arrest on a shoplifting charge from 2002.
He was held on that charge until January, when Gov. Rick Scott ordered his extradition to Nassau County on a grand theft charge for having Westfall's car.
He is being represented by the public defender's office and has been held on $100,000 bond until today.
Nassau Sheriff Tommy Seagraves announced this morning that a charge of second degree murder with a firearm had been filed against Turnage, increasing his bond to over $500,000.
The new charge is the first time Turnage has been officially associated with the murder of Westfall.
Seagraves said an "intense investigation" and cooperation among several law enforcement agencies led to enough evidence for the murder charge.
He added that he hopes this is the first step toward closure for Westfall's family.
First Coast News