New confession may set co-defendant free 12 years after murder conviction
11:11 PM EDT on Monday, March 31, 2008
Reported by Brian Farrell, WVEC-TV (www.wvec.com)
VIRGINIA BEACH -- A high-profile murder case involving two Navy SEAL trainees will head back to a local courtroom 12 years after the initial convictions.
In September of 1996, Dusty Turner and Billy Joe Brown were convicted in the 1995 killing of college-coed Jennifer Evans.
The case took an unexpected turn in 2002 when Brown confessed during a taped interview in prison that he committed the crime by himself. Since then, there has been a push for courts to recognize the confession.
“I don’t belong here,” Turner told 13News in 2005. “I am innocent of the charges I’ve been convicted of.”
Three years after that interview, and more than a decade after his conviction for killing Evans, a confession clearing Turner will head to court.
It will be presented as evidence that could lead to freedom from the state prison system.
“Anytime you get a witness who swears under oath to one thing, and then later swears under oath to something exactly opposite, there are gonna be concerns,” said Turner’s attorney David Hargett.
The confession came from co-defendant Brown, who for years claimed Turner killed Evans.
The Navy SEAL trainees met her at the Oceanfront while she was on vacation in 1995, and that day Brown says he choked her to death.
“The reason for Billy Joe Brown to deny any involvement at the time of his arrest is quite compelling,” said Hargett. “I mean, he was looking to save his own skin.”
Hargett filed a petition asking for a new evidence hearing because of the confession that tells a very different story. That petition quotes Brown, “Honest to God, it sounds crazy as can be, but I’m telling the truth. One minute everything was fine and the next minute I had killed her.”
It adds that Brown remembers Turner's hand pulling on his arm while he choked Evans, admitting he tried to have sex with her body until Turner made him stop.
This month, the Court of Appeals ordered the evidence hearing.
"The family is pleased, there's no doubt about that,” said Hargett. “But, once again, everyone understands that the standard is very demanding."
That includes showing the confession wasn't available during the time the appeals process normally allows for considering new evidence. In Virginia, that’s 21 days after sentencing.
Hargett has to convince a judge that if the confession was part of Turner's trial, no reasonable person would have found him guilty.
Hargett expects the hearing to come by the end of May. The findings go back to the Court of Appeals, which ultimately decides what happens to Turner.