- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

RICHMOND, VA. (AP) - A defense lawyer urged an appeals court on Tuesday to free a former Navy SEAL trainee convicted of killing a vacationing college student in Virginia, arguing that another former trainee told the truth when he changed his story to take the blame.

The lawyer for Dustin Turner told a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals that no rational judge or jury would have found his client guilty had they heard the other trainee’s admission that he alone killed Jennifer Evans in 1995.

A local judge last June ruled that codefendant Billy Joe Brown was credible when he said that he didn’t have Turner’s help when he strangled the Emory University student who was visiting Virginia Beach. The ruling sent Turner’s request for exoneration to the appeals court.

Turner’s attorney, David Hargett, argued Tuesday that Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Frederick Lowe considered that Brown had changed his story but still found the latest version credible in the “assertion that he alone killed Miss Evans, and Dustin Turner played no role.”

But Robert Anderson of the attorney general’s office emphasized that Brown has given several conflicting accounts of the crime, so it was difficult to know which version to believe.

The prosecutor also said Lowe erred on several points, including his finding that there was no scientific evidence in the case. He said Turner’s claim that Evans died almost instantaneously, preventing him from intervening, was refuted by expert testimony that it normally takes three to five minutes to strangle someone.

Jennifer Evans’ parents, Al and Delores Evans of Atlanta, remain convinced Turner is guilty.

“Jennifer is the real victim here,” Delores Evans said outside the courtroom. “It’s been almost 14 years since I last heard her voice, was cheered up by her laughter or got a warm hug from her.”

Turner’s mother, Linda Summitt of Bloomington, Ind., told reporters she thought the hearing went well. A ruling could take several weeks or even months.

Turner, 34, is serving an 82-year sentence for the slaying of Evans in his parked car outside a nightclub. He claims 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 the woman.

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, 36, is serving 72 years.

Turner now admits only to helping conceal the body. Hargett told the appeals court that, at the most, Turner is guilty of being an accessory after the fact _ a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail.

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.

At first the confession did Turner no good because state law required any newly discovered non-DNA evidence to be submitted within 21 days of sentencing.

A 2004 revision of the law eliminated that deadline, allowing Turner to pursue his claim in court and giving Summitt new hope after years of trying to clear her son.

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