Virginia Attorney General to appeal clearing of former SEAL trainee

By Julian Walker
The Virginian-Pilot
© August 8, 2009

Attorney General Bill Mims announced Friday that his office will appeal a state court ruling handed down earlier this week that overturned the conviction of a former Navy SEAL trainee in a 1995 Virginia Beach murder case.

A divided three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals granted Dustin Turner's petition for a writ of actual innocence by a 2-1 decision Tuesday.

The two judges who supported the petition reasoned that the postconviction confession of co-defendant Billy Joe Brown - also a former SEAL trainee - that he alone killed 21-year-old college student Jennifer Evans probably would have kept Turner out of prison.

Turner, who has been in prison for 14 years, and Brown were convicted in separate jury trials. Evans, a premed student at Emory University spending time in Sandbridge on summer vacation that year, was choked to death in Turner's car.

Mims issued a brief written statement Friday announcing his decision: "I have decided to seek review by the full Court of Appeals in the case of Dustin Turner," the attorney general said.

"The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals was sharply divided. It is imperative that a case of such significance be decided by the full court."

Mims' office is asking all 11 judges on the appellate court to collectively hear the appeal.

There is a 14-day window from the time of the Aug. 4 ruling to make such an application. How long it will take the court to determine whether to hear the case once that request is received remains unclear.

"The time in which they will make the decision is completely unpredictable," said Justin Shelton, deputy clerk of the appellate court.

Regardless of the court's decision, the attorney general's office retains the right to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Julian Walker, (804) 697-1564,