Dustin Turner, one of two ex-Navy SEAL trainees convicted in a 1995 murder of a college student at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, has petitioned Gov. Mark R. Warner for a pardon based on a recantation by his co-defendant, who now takes full responsibility for the slaying.
Billy Joe Brown’s 2003 affidavit absolving Turner of strangling Jennifer Evans amounts to “a complete vindication” for Turner, says the petition, filed May 19.
Evans, a 21-year-old pre-medical student from Georgia who was vacationing with friends at Sandbridge, disappeared from the Bayou, a now-defunct Beach nightspot on 19th Street. Turner led police to her decomposed body in a wooded Newport News park nine days later. The case generated huge media coverage.
Brown and Turner, who were best friends and SEAL ``swim buddies’’ at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, initially denied any involvement in the crime. Eventually both admitted disposing of the body together, but each blamed the other for the slaying.
Now Brown says his testimony in his 1996 trial was false and Turner’s version of events is correct. He attributes his turnaround to his newfound religious faith.
“As a Christian, I can no longer allow someone who is innocent to continue to pay for what I did,” Brown said in the affidavit. “Dustin Turner had nothing to do with the death of Jennifer Evans.”
Brown said he initially implicated Turner because he was angry at him for telling the police what happened and leading them to the body.
In his petition to Warner, Turner acknowledged exercising “poor judgment” by helping Brown dispose of the body and not going to the police immediately, but says he is “factually innocent” of murder.
He attributes his actions after the killing to panic and his SEAL training, which “teaches one to never leave a swim buddy, no matter what.”
Robert J. Humphreys, who was Virginia Beach commonwealth’s attorney at the time, conceded during the trial that he couldn’t prove which of the men killed Evans. The prosecution’s theory was that the pair conspired to abduct her from the nightclub and that she was choked accidentally during a sexual assault.
Humphreys, who is now a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals, has said that under that theory, Brown’s confession does nothing to undermine Turner’s conviction. Turner’s defenders say he is guilty only of being an accessory after the fact – a misdemeanor .
Turner, now 29, is serving 82 years in Augusta Correctional Center. Brown, 31, was sentenced to 72 years. Since Virginia has abolished parole, both sentences amount to life in prison.
Pardon petitions are referred to the state Parole Board for an investigation and recommendation to the governor. The process can take a year or more.
Reach Bill Sizemore at 446-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org