Who is Dusty Turner?
The Valiant Fighter: A Brief Biography of Former Navy SEAL Dustin Turner
Linda knew that this baby was going to be special. She was attending Indiana University working on her M.S. in Education while she was pregnant with him and she was more attentive than ever during her classes. She had also developed several new whims including reading and eating more than usual. After 9 1/2 months of pregnancy she had gained 75 pounds and began to worry. However, her doctors assured her that her baby was going to be healthy and that if she did not deliver soon, they would induce labor. Finally on February 5, 1975, after almost 10 months of carrying her baby, her doctors broke her water to get the birth process started.
When her first son Matthew was born, Linda had been in labor for more than 24 hours. On the second day, she and her husband Arch Turner decided that they should go to Bloomington Hospital that afternoon. However, Matt was not born until just after midnight.
Now, because of the expense they had incurred with Matt’s delivery, and the fact that they did not have medical insurance, Arch insisted that they wait until after midnight before being admitted to the hospital when Linda was in labor. Otherwise they would be charged for the entire day.
They made it through the first day and almost all of the second day until about 11:00 PM when Linda declared to Arch, “If you don’t take me to the hospital right now, YOU will be delivering this baby!” She had finally convinced him that she was ready to give birth and off they went.
The labor pains were coming fast and as they headed toward Bloomington Hospital, they were forced to stop for an oncoming train. Linda thought that her baby was going to be born right in their car. Thankfully, the train finally passed and Arch hurried on to the hospital. They arrived at the emergency room just minutes before midnight. As Arch filled out the paperwork, Linda was being prepped for delivery and not a minute to soon. At 12:10 AM, Friday, February 7, 1975, Dustin Alan Turner made his grand entrance into the world.
Linda started calling her new son “Dusty” soon after his birth. He developed very quickly and was soon rolling over and sitting up. By the time he was 8 1/2 months old he was walking and had developed his own vocabulary which only his brother Matt could interpret.
Linda and Arch had been having some marital problems before the arrival of Dusty and soon after he was born they divorced. Fortunately, this event did not have any adverse impact on Dusty. Although life was difficult for Linda, with Matt only four years old and Dusty almost one, she continued her education. She also worked for a company where she was fortunate to meet her second husband, Larry Summitt. Larry had recently divorced also and had a daughter named Heather. Linda was surprised to meet a man who took the time to help his parents and who was always available to his daughter when she needed him.
Before their marriage, there was an event that occurred that endeared Larry to Linda even more. Linda was at her apartment talking with her friend Emily on the phone about one of their classes. She had given Matt and Dusty an apple. Dusty was walking around eating a piece of the apple when he walked under a table probably bumped his head. This caused part of the apple to go down his throat and become lodged in his windpipe. Linda heard him gagging and told Emily to hold on while she checked on Dusty.
She walked quickly to him where she found him writhing under the table trying to get his breath with his face turning blue. In a panic, she dragged him from under the table and began trying to dislodge the apple while screaming for help. Fortunately, Larry was there and heard the commotion. He immediately accessed the problem and started performing the Heimlich maneuver. It was a coincidence that he had just seen this life saving technique the night before on TV. With his quick action, the apple pieces went spewing about two feet out of Dusty’s mouth onto the floor.
As Larry began performing moth-to-mouth resuscitation Linda was screaming for help and called 911. “My baby is dying!” she managed to tell them. Emily had sent her husband Charles down from the 7th floor to Linda’s 6th floor apt to help. Larry’s efforts soon paid off as Dusty began to breathe again. Linda clutched Dusty tightly in her arms and began crying uncontrollably. The EMS team arrived shortly afterward. However, without Larry’s quick response they would have been too late. They examined Dusty, who was recovering quickly, and informed Linda that he was going to be fine.
It was not long after this incident that Larry and Linda became engaged and later when Dusty was 2 years old they married. They set up house in Bloomington, Indiana combining their families. Matthew was now 6 years old, Heather 5 1/2 and Dusty 2. They had no problems adjusting to their new family and over the next two years Linda and Larry had two more sons, Jason and Tyler. Linda and Larry set about to raise a normal, all-American family.
Larry worked as a sales representative for Western and Southern Insurance Company. (He eventually was promoted to manager and remained with them for 36 years until his retirement.) Linda taught 1st grade and later became a Reading Teacher at Richland Bean Blossom School Corporation.
They were active in Clear Creek Christian Church and their community. They modeled solid values and character traits for their children. The years passed quickly. Being married to the love of her life and serving as a mother to her beautiful daughter and sons, Linda felt that this was the happiest period of her life. She took great pride in watching them grow into strong and good young people with solid values.
As a young boy, Dusty attracted attention where ever he went with Linda and Larry. People stopped them in malls, on the beach, at events and other places, and made comments about his good looks, strong physique and smiling personality. Linda recalls the time that they were at a trade show and a vendor of rare coins offered her a million dollars in gold for Dusty. Linda replied smiling that she “would not sell Dusty to anyone for all the gold and silver in the world”.
Dusty relates that many of his earliest memories are connected to bodies of water such as pools, lakes, creeks and even a beach in Florida where he caught a jellyfish at the age of three during a family vacation. After Linda and Arch divorced, Arch remained in the Bloomington area. Dusty spent many week-ends with him, Brenda, his step-mother and Scott his half-brother.
During Linda’s first year of teaching, Dusty was enrolled in Forest Heights Nursery School. He enjoyed the experience immensely and developed a strong desire for learning which he still maintains today.
When Linda became pregnant with Jason, she resigned her teaching position. She and Larry moved to a new home which she continues to occupy today. Soon after Jason’s birth, Linda discovered that she was pregnant with Tyler. Dusty was four years old when Tyler was born.
Dusty was now stranded at home with two babies while his older siblings attended school. So he asked Linda if he could return to nursery school so that he could learn to read and be with children his own age. He said that he didn’t want to be around babies who couldn’t read or even talk! He continuously asked Linda when he would turn 5 years old because he was anxious to begin elementary school.
Although he could not wait to return to nursery school, (Linda recalls that he used to sit on the bar stools at the kitchen counter and pretend to do homework, mimicking his older siblings Matt and Heather) Linda did not return him to school. Instead, she applied for a license to open a nursery school in her home. She ran it until Dusty completed first grade at Clear Creek Elementary School.
Dusty was anxious to begin playing sports. All of Linda and Larry’s children began playing baseball. Larry coached and always had one or two of his own children on his team and Linda served as a team mother. They also installed a pool in the backyard and provided swimming lessons for their children. As a result, they all became very good swimmers, even as toddlers.
Dusty became a popular little boy in elementary school. He was a very active and happy child during this time of his life. He never got into any trouble and all the teachers enjoyed having him in their class. His 5th grade teacher Jeff Baldwin, who was new at the time, and his lovely wife Nancy and their daughters, became good friends with Dusty’s family. They often shared meals and attended the children’s ball games and other activities together. In fact, the families have become lifelong friends. Jeff is now the Executive Director of the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club and still stays in contact with Dusty.
During the time that Dusty was in Jeff’s class, the students worked on a project that involved studying historical events. He discussed the importance of preserving history with his students and he asked them to create a time capsule. He asked each of them to find something that they felt was of historical or personal importance to include in the capsule. The students all brought in items to include such as photographs, journals, labels from popular items, candy bars, CD's of current pop singers and other memorabilia. They buried the capsule in a wooded area behind the school. They planned to open the capsule one year after their graduation from high school.
Ten years later in May of 1996, all the students assembled for the big event except one, Dusty Turner. After opening the capsule, all the students walked across the street to 315 West Clear Creek Drive and presented Linda and Larry with the items that Dusty had included. They all cried as they hugged Linda and Larry, and told them how much they loved Dusty and missed him. They told them that they were honored to be his friend and hoped and prayed that he would return home soon.
Aside from school and sports, Dusty’s other love was the Boy Scouts program. It was a large part of his life growing up. He especially enjoyed the camps and campouts. He began as a Cub Scout and progressed through the ranks, achieving many awards, until he was accepted into the Eagle Scout program. Linda and Larry were very proud of his accomplishment.
Even as a child, Dusty was very serious about his commitment to the Boy Scouts and to his country. He took great pride in pledging allegiance to the American flag, marching in parades, wearing his uniform and carrying the flag. Linda believes that Dusty’s patriotism stems from the fact that he comes from a military family who modeled respect for God, community, society and country.
Dusty has always loved helping people even to this day. When he was young, he discovered that assisting others in need was very satisfying and rewarding. Growing up in Bloomington provided him with many opportunities to be of service to others. The Boy Scouts enabled him to become involved in many service activities. He also served as a junior deacon at Clear Creek Christian Church. In this role, he was involved in fundraising and campaigns to help others.
Linda relates that he was not a problem child. To the contrary, he was a great helper at home. He loved to work along-side Larry, who he considered to be his Dad. He would hand Larry tools as he worked on the lawn and in the garden. Larry also taught him how to fish and hunt. In addition, Dusty helped his younger brothers with their homework. Dusty also helped Linda with her tasks when she became a Den Mother for a troop of Cub Scouts that included Jason and Tyler.
Linda recalls a time when she took her Cub Scout group on a field trip to the Bloomington Airport. The airport manager was in the process of taking them for an airplane ride. However, one of the boys had become ill and Linda needed to stay behind with him. Dusty immediately stepped forward and offered to remain with the sick boy and the other boys who had not yet taken their turns.
Dusty describes his step-father Larry as “an amazing outdoorsman and woodsman”. From early childhood, he spent a lot of time in the woods fishing, hunting, searching for mushrooms and exploring. Almost all the food his family consumed was caught, raised, killed, grown, preserved and canned by them.
Their house became a place for the neighborhood children to hang out. Linda and Larry hosted many scout functions, baseball team parties and sleepovers with tents pitched all over the backyard. As Dusty grew older, he became a role model for the many friends of his younger brothers Jason and Tyler They all enjoyed hanging out at home so that Dusty could teach them how to tie knots and other fun scouting tasks.
As Dusty started getting older, other things changed too. He was very busy with school work and sports. However, the girls were starting to call him because they wanted to hang out at his house also.
While Dusty was in Batchelor Middle School, he played several sports. He had always enjoyed baseball, but he expanded his horizons and started playing football and basketball. He also ran cross country and took keen interest in swimming. With Linda’s help, he joined the Bloomington Swim Club where he excelled. He enjoyed racing in the pool with anyone that he could challenge to a race. During his time with the club, he learned how to dive and make underwater turns. He enjoyed teaching his mother and siblings these techniques.
When he wasn’t in school or practicing, Dusty spent a lot of time riding his bike with his friends in the neighborhood. They rode the trails in the area and performed many free-style bike tricks. They also enjoyed sledding in the winter and swimming in Lake Monroe and the local quarry holes during the summer. At the age of 7 Dusty took Kung Fu lessons and enjoyed practicing the many complex moves it required. While in 3rd grade his school offered a Spanish class after school and Dusty attended it for a year learning basic vocabulary. He later studied Spanish in high school.
Dusty and his family had relatives in Florida, Colorado, Arizona and California. They often traveled to visit them during the summer months and holidays. During their visits, Dusty enjoyed snorkeling, mountain climbing and exploring caves. He also spent several summers with his father in Los Angeles where he enjoyed the sun, sand and surf of Manhattan, Redondo and Hermosa beaches.
One summer Dusty and his brother Matt took volleyball lessons from a professional player in Los Angeles. They both immediately fell in love with the sport. Later while he was in high school, he often organized two-on-two volleyball competitions on the sand courts around Bloomington.
Among Dusty’s fondest memories are his visits to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, the Grand Canyon, a ghost town in Arizona, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Key West, Oahu and Maui, Disneyworld, Disneyland, Epcot Center, MGM Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Kings Island in Ohio.
When Dusty was a freshman at Bloomington High School South, he had a medical issue that was initially diagnosed as very serious. He was having high fevers and his lymph nodes started to become swollen and infected. Dr. James Ray, his family physician, sent him to a specialist who hospitalized him immediately and performed surgery on one if his lymph nodes.
After the operation, the doctor took Linda aside and told her that Dusty probably had leukemia or lymphoma. With such heartbreaking news, Linda asked to be led to the chapel in the hospital where she fell on her knees prayed for a long time. Fortunately, her prayers were answered. The doctors accurately diagnosed Dusty’s symptoms as being caused by “Cat Scratch Fever”. He underwent successful treatment and he was soon back to at school and participating in normal activities.
Dusty continued to maintain good grades and played several sports throughout high school. He was very popular in school and the girls were very interested in him. He took beautiful girls to his junior and senior proms and double-dated with some of his best friends.
From an early age, Dusty enjoyed working. He held many jobs including babysitting and mowing lawns. As he grew older, he worked at Payless Shoes, Arch’s ice cream parlor The Penguin and Steak and Shake. During the summers he held a variety of jobs. Some included working with Larry and his brothers at Indiana University cleaning up after the students had moved on or off campus. He also worked with Bunkbed Brothers setting up bunk beds for the dormitories. During several summers he and his brothers worked for Mayflower Moving Company. His favorite job was with The Four Winds Marina where he shuttled people to and from their boats via water taxi. With his efforts, he saved enough money to buy his first car, a 1990 maroon Ford Escort.
Dusty developed an interest in scuba diving when he was very young. He used to read a storybook that depicted pirates diving without equipment and scavenging for sunken treasure. At the age of 15, Dusty made his first open water dive at a quarry hole near Bloomington and received his diving certification. He had discovered his calling.
When Dusty was a sophomore in high school, he met a U.S. Navy recruiter who talked to him about joining the Navy’s Delayed Entry Program. He came home very excited and explained to Linda that he would learn many useful skills that would be valuable whether or not he eventually joined the organization. Because of the virtues they taught, Linda thought it would be a good experience for Dusty and she gave him permission to join. He was required to attend weekly meetings which he did faithfully.
Because Dusty was now enrolled in this program, he would be permitted to enlist in the Navy early with a higher rank. Although Linda agreed to allow him to enlist during his senior year, she wasn't expecting him to leave for a long time. He continued to attend weekly meetings until the summer after his graduation from high school. At this time, he was now officially committed to joining the Navy. He wanted to follow his passion and become a Navy diver. Linda urged him to wait until the end of summer in case he changed his mind. Although she was very proud of Dusty, she was very sad when he left for boot camp just two weeks after graduation. His older brother Matt was already in the Navy and stationed overseas, so naturally Linda was concerned about the safety of her two oldest sons.
After Dusty graduated from high school in 1993, and before leaving for Boot Camp, he had heard about the Navy SEALs and became very intrigued by them. When he told a friend on the swim team that he intended to become SEAL, his friend bet him $10,000 that he would not complete the training. Dusty said later that “He probably forgot the wager, but I never did!”
Before beginning boot camp in Orlando, Florida, Dusty was assigned to the Dive Fare Program which was composed of men who wanted to become SEALs, divers, or Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) specialists. Men who graduated from their designated training would earn the rank of E-4 and be enlisted for six years. However, it was too late to apply for entry to the SEALs. So Dusty arrived at Boot Camp as a diver trainee with no idea how he could gain entry to the SEALs. There were approximately 90 men in his Dive Fare Boot Camp class, most of whom wanted to join the SEALs.
During his class’s first attempt to pass the physical requirements, Dusty sneaked into the line for the SEAL qualifying test and was one of only five men who passed. Afterward, he was approached by Petty Officer Davis, described by Dusty as a “SEAL Team poster boy”. With his clipboard in hand, he asked Dusty his name, flipped through several pages, then shouted at him “You took the wrong test!”
With Dusty bent over, out of breath and intimated by the presence of this person whom he calls an “Aquagod”, he did his best to convince Davis that he should be given a chance to compete for a spot with the SEALs. He stared at Dusty with a “gaze that would make a grown man cower”. However, he seemed impressed with Dusty’s initiative and gave the authorization for Dusty to switch his designation.
Looking back, Dusty credits Petty Officer Davis with enabling him to become the first man of 20 in his boot camp class to qualify for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. Dusty recalls that swim training was the most difficult physical challenge he had ever experienced before arriving at boot camp. Upon completion of boot camp, Dusty attended Defense Photography School. Afterward he was ordered to BUD/S training at Coronado Island in San Diego. He arrived in February of 1994 and began his training. He was one of 180 very well- conditioned men in his class.
During his training he experienced several serious injuries that required him to withdraw from his original class. After his recuperation, he was reassigned to a new class and graduated in December 1994 with class #196. He was one of only 19 men of a class of 180 to graduate. In addition, he was the only member of his Dive Fare Boot Camp class to complete BUD/S Training. Because he finished second in the Final Combat Conditioning Course, he was given his first choice of SEAL teams. Dusty selected SEAL Team 4. At the age of 19, he was the youngest SEAL Team member in the entire U.S. Navy at that time.
After successfully completing Army Airborne Training School at Fort Benning, Georgia, he reported for duty in February 1995. He was assigned to Echo Platoon and began to prepare for deployment in August. During this time he was required to complete a six month “probationary period” as he qualified for a variety of skills needed in Echo Platoon. He participated in SEAL Tactical Training which included dive training in Puerto Rico and Land Navigation at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.
In the early morning hours of Monday, June 19, 1995, Dusty’s life, along with the lives of many other people, changed forever. Jennifer Evans was tragically murdered by Dusty’s “swim buddy” Billy Joe Brown in Virginia Beach. Because of his instinct for survival and misplaced loyalty to Brown, Dusty made the mistake of driving away from the scene and helping to bury Jennifer’s body.
Dusty has said that the senseless murder of Jennifer and the unspeakable grief that it has inflicted upon her family and friends has haunted him every day of his life for almost 18 years. He has replayed that tragic moment in his mind a thousand times wishing that he had been able to save her. He has tried to live an upstanding life while in prison in order to be true to his values and beliefs, and also to honor Jennifer. Although he has written to Jennifer’s parents, he wishes that he could speak with them in person. He would tell them again that he is deeply remorseful for the unbearable pain that he caused them by waiting 8 days before coming forward to admit his role in her disappearance.
All during the course of his trial and appeals, and to this day, Dusty has steadfastly maintained his innocence. After Brown publicly confessed in 2002 that he alone had murdered Jennifer and that Dusty had no part in it, Dusty filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence. In 2009 his conviction was overturned by a three judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals. However, the full Court of Appeals overturned this decision and their ruling was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2011. Now, Dusty’s only chance to win his freedom lies with the granting of clemency by the Governor of Virginia.
After Dusty was sent to prison, he began taking correspondence courses through Indiana University to polish up his Spanish and learn about nutrition. However, he eventually depleted all his savings. Because of the financial burden on his family due to his legal defense, he did not ask them to pay for his college studies. Instead, he decided to continue his education through self-teaching.
He has taken full advantage of the prison libraries that have been available to him. He has also made requests to several universities for donations of outdated and used books on a wide variety of subjects. He has used almost every dime that he had saved from jobs he has held in prison over the years to pay for his books. To date he has accumulated more than 200 books that are now housed in his library at home in Bloomington.
Dusty describes himself as an average student while growing up. However, since his incarceration, he has developed a love for many of the subjects that he loathed in high school. His prefers reading non-fiction and classical literature. He has also written dozens of articles on such diverse topics as horses, sociology, education, religion and tribalism.
He enjoys listening to classical music by composers such as Wagner, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. He also draws, paints, takes classes, runs, lifts weights and participates in sports such as volleyball and basketball. He has also developed a deep interest in early Northern European literature, culture and language. He studied German for more than a year with three other inmates and he is currently studying Old Norse.
Dusty formerly tutored inmates to help them prepare for their GED exams. He has also tutored many Spanish speaking inmates in English as well as the basic skills of becoming a productive citizen. He even helped several inmates qualify for Pell Grants to attend college after their release from prison. Although his sentence of 82 years is too lengthy to qualify for a Pell Grant, he often attended the classes and assisted the inmates with their studies.
More recently, Dusty has found ways to teach interested inmates various aspects of astronomy, history, theology and geography. He has tried to instill in them the desire and motivation to pursue higher learning and abandon illegal drugs and other vices. He has challenged and encouraged them to become better sons, husbands and fathers.
Because of his exceptional behavior, leadership and positive attitude during the time he has been incarcerated, Dusty has been given the opportunity to live in “honor pods”. The prisons in Virginia dedicate one section of a building to house inmates like Dusty who have exhibited good behavior. Typically, space is reserved in an honor pod for about 10% of the inmate population. Members of the honor pod have fewer restrictions imposed upon them and are given special privileges. For example, they are permitted to move more freely inside the honor pod and they are provided a more private area to meet with their visitors.
Family members and friends who know Dusty well, describe him as honest, loyal, family-focused, dependable, persevering, respectful, resourceful, courageous, self-reliant, hardworking, compassionate, intelligent, patriotic, studious, disciplined, determined and goal-oriented.
Those who have visited him in prison are amazed at his ability to not only survive in such a restrictive environment, but to truly thrive. He once shared with one of his friends that because of the length of his sentence, his view of time is quite different than that of most other inmates. He is not preoccupied by thoughts of when he will be a released. Because of this, he is able to focus very effectively on projects, tasks and activities that will benefit him as well as others. He views his time in prison as an opportunity to grow and develop personally and to help his fellow inmates adapt to life in prison. He takes a special interest in helping them to prepare for and commit to living meaningful and productive lives after their release.
He also continually seeks ways to improve the environment in prison. For example, in 2012 he wrote and submitted a proposal to implement a recycling program at Green Rock Correctional Center. His proposal was accepted and he was given a key role in implementing and helping to manage the program. He also recently created and submitted a proposal to implement an obedience program for rescued dogs that is designed to benefit both the dogs as well as the inmates who are selected to work with them.
Dusty is very grateful to his family, friends and supporters for standing by him for the past 18 years. He is especially thankful to his mother Linda who has dedicated her life to helping him win his freedom. She has made innumerable trips from Indiana to Virginia to visit him. She has also worked tirelessly behind the scenes doing research, writing letters and contacting wide variety of people to seek their help. Her efforts were instrumental in helping to pass a law in Virginia that permits new evidence to be introduced beyond 21 days after conviction of a crime.
Dusty is also grateful to his attorney David Hargett who took his case in 2000. After several appeals were denied and Linda had become ill, David continued working on Dusty's case taking it on a pro bono basis. For more than 13 years, David has worked tirelessly in pursuing appeals of Dusty’s case all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. He has also filed petitions for clemency with Governor McDonnell and former Governor Warner. He is committed to pursuing Dusty’s case for as long as it takes to win his freedom.
A documentary film about Dusty’s case called “Target of Opportunity” will soon be released. It is a riveting film that examines this murder case and the confession by Billy Joe Brown to framing his “swim buddy” Dusty for the murder. Filmmaker J.D. Leete, a retired US Navy SWCC Chief Petty Officer, spent more than five years investigating this case and the court decisions that have left Dusty incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
Because all of his appeals to overturn his conviction have been exhausted, Dusty filed a petition for clemency with the Governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell, last May. Dusty and his family, friends and supporters are hopeful that he will be granted his freedom by the Governor before he leaves office in January.
If he is granted clemency, he plans to return to his home in Bloomington, Indiana where he hopes to land a part-time position in administration. He also plans to enroll at Indiana University where he will pursue a B.A. in Northern European History. In addition, he would like to serve as a volunteer with the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club.
Thank you for your interest in Dusty’s cause. If you would like to help him in his efforts to seek a pardon by Governor Terry McAuliffe, please click here.