Attorney general to appeal Dustin Turner ruling
Herald-Times and Wire Report
August 7, 2009

Dustin Turner's family is disheartened yet still hopeful he might be released from prison after Virginia's attorney general today said he will appeal a court ruling that exonerated the former Navy SEAL, who has spent 14 years behind bars for the 1995 abduction and murder of a 21-year-old college student from Georgia.

“We are upset, but then we pretty much knew it was going to happen,” said his mother, Linda Summitt of Bloomington.

On Tuesday, members of a Virginia appeals court ruled in favor of a writ of actual innocence, which would override Turner's convictions and set him free. In the 2-1 ruling, the court said Turner was guilty of helping dispose of Jennifer Evans' body after she was strangled, but that he already has served well beyond the sentence for that offense.

But three days later, Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims suggested that the appeals court was sharply divided. “It is imperative that a case of such significance be decided by the full court,” he said in a written statement.

Turner's Navy SEAL swim buddy, Billy Joe Brown, maintained his innocence during his trial, but admitted in 2003 that he alone killed Evans and that Turner was not involved in the murder, as he has claimed since the beginning. He said he was angry at Turner for leading police to Evans' body so he lied and said Turner killed her.

When it came time for sentencing, Brown's 72-year jail term was a decade shorter than Turner's 82 years.

Turner said in a telephone interview from Powhatan Correctional Center earlier this week that he thought it was time for state prosecutors to accept the appeals court ruling and set him free. His attorney, David Hargett, echoed those sentiments today.

“Considering the evidence we have in this case — the credible confession of Brown and the lack of evidence Dustin did anything wrong except for after the fact — given those circumstances, you would think the attorney general's office would let this one go,” Hargett said.

“We have the momentum now, and I am confident in our chances moving forward,” he said.

If Turner prevails, he would be the first person in Virginia to get a murder conviction overturned under a 2004 law that allows nonbiological evidence of innocence to be considered more than 21 days after sentencing.