- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia’s attorney general said Friday that he will appeal a court ruling that exonerated a former Navy SEAL trainee who has spent 14 years in prison for the abduction and murder of a Georgia college student.

In a 2-1 decision Tuesday, a Virginia Court of Appeals panel granted a writ of actual innocence to Dustin Turner of Bloomington, Ind. Another former SEAL trainee, Billy Joe Brown, now says he alone killed Jennifer Evans and Mr. Turner just helped dispose of her body.

The panel’s decision, which now will be reviewed by the full appeals court, affirmed a judge’s ruling that Brown’s confession was credible. Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Frederick Lowe concluded that no rational judge or jury would have convicted Mr. Turner had they heard Brown’s confession.

“The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals was sharply divided,” Attorney General William C. Mims said in a written statement. “It is imperative that a case of such significance be decided by the full court.”

The appeal disappointed Mr. Turner’s mother and pleased the mother of Miss Evans, a 21-year-old Emory University student who was vacationing in Virginia Beach when she met Mr. Turner and Brown at a nightclub in 1995.

“How can I go from being on top of the world one minute, writing thank you notes and praises to God and to fellow Sisters and Brothers, then back to the depths of hell again,” Mr. Turner’s mother, Linda Summitt, said in an e-mail. “It is a nightmare that never ceases!”

She wrote that while the decision was expected, “it is very disheartening knowing that we have yet one more hurdle to leap before Justice will prevail.”

Delores Evans, of Tucker, Ga., said in a telephone interview that the appeal is “the right thing to do.” She added that she is “dedicated for as long as it takes, and doing whatever it takes, to keep representing Jennifer.”

Mr. 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 rulings of Judge Lowe and the appeals panel and set him free. His attorney, David Hargett, echoed those sentiments Friday.

“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,” Mr. Hargett said.

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

If Mr. Turner ultimately 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.

Mr. Turner, who is serving an 83-year sentence, claims he and Miss Evans were sitting in the front seat of his car outside the bar when a drunken and belligerent Brown got into the back seat and reached around to strangle Evans.

Brown, who is serving 72 years, testified at his own trial that Miss Evans was already dead when he got into the car. He later changed his story, signing a sworn statement in 2003 saying he alone killed Miss Evans. Brown, from Dayton, Ohio, said he initially blamed Mr. Turner because he was angry with him for cooperating with authorities.

Mr. Turner admits driving with Brown 30 miles to Newport News to dispose of Miss Evans’ body. The appeals court panel found Mr. Turner guilty of being an accessory after the fact, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

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