Va. Court of Appeals overturns ex-SEAL trainee's murder conviction

06:03 PM EDT on Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Associated Press - Courtesy WVEC-TV

Click here for Video from WVEC-TV

RICHMOND (AP) -- The Virginia Court of Appeals has overturned the murder conviction of an ex-Navy SEAL trainee convicted of killing a Georgia college student who was vacationing in Virginia Beach.

The appeals court on Tuesday granted Dustin Turner's request for a writ of actual innocence and vacated his conviction of murder and abduction with intent to defile.

It instead found him guilty of being an accessory after the fact for helping conceal the body of Jennifer Evans in 1995.

Turner's mother told 13News, “I am overwhelmed with emotion today.”

Turner was serving an 82-year sentence for killing Evans in his parked car outside a Virginia Beach nightclub.

In June 2008, a Virginia Beach judge ruled that co-defendant Billy Joe Brown was credible when he said that he didn't have Turner's help when he strangled Evans, an Emory University student on vacation in the resort city.

Turner has stated he was sitting in the car with Evans, talking and listening to music, when a drunken Brown climbed into the back and reached over the front passenger seat and strangled her.

According to testimony, the two drove to Newport News and disposed of Evans' body. Turner led authorities to the body nine days later.

Each man accused the other of killing Evans and both were convicted. Brown is serving 72 years.

Brown signed a sworn statement in 2003 saying he alone killed Evans. He said he found religion in prison and wanted to set matters straight.

Turner's attorney told the court last year that his client was guilty of being an accessory after the fact -- a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail.

A hearing is set to determine his punishment for that crime.

Turner is the first person in Virginia to get a murder conviction overturned under a 2004 law that allows non-biological evidence of innocence to be considered more than 21 days after sentencing.

An appeal of the decision is possible and it would come from the Virginia Attorney General's office.

“We are reviewing the court's opinion,” David Clementson, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Mims, told

As for the possible release of Turner from Powhatan Correctional, Va. Dept. of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor told, “We will work as quickly as possible under the direction of the court and the AG's Office.”

Neither spokeman could give a time line for a decision.

Turner's attorney David Hargett said, "We're very pleased, and we like our chances moving forward, but at this point we're not exactly sure what forward will be."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

Also Online

Dustin Turner Coalition for Justice Website

Read the court's opinion