- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2009

RICHMOND | A former Navy SEAL trainee whose murder and abduction convictions were overturned said Wednesday that it’s time for state prosecutors to give up trying to keep him in prison.

A divided Virginia Appeals Court panel granted Dustin Turner’s request for a writ of actual innocence Tuesday, affirming a lower court’s finding that another man’s confession that he alone killed Jennifer Evans was credible. The Attorney General’s Office has not decided whether to appeal the panel’s ruling, spokesman David Clementson said.

In a telephone interview from Powhatan Correctional Center, Mr. Turner told the Associated Press that his elation over the 2-1 panel decision is tempered by uncertainty over what the state might do next. The attorney general can appeal to the full intermediate appeals court or to the Virginia Supreme Court.

“It is time for them to throw in the towel,” Mr. Turner said. “If they decide to appeal this, it just means more time for me to sit in prison and additional costs and hardship on everyone.”

Mr. Turner, 34, has spent 14 years in prison for the 1995 slaying of Miss Evans, a 21-year-old Emory University student he met at a Virginia Beach nightclub. Another former SEAL trainee, Billy Joe Brown, also was convicted and has since testified that Mr. Turner’s only involvement was helping him dispose of the victim’s body.

Delores Evans of Tucker, Ga., the victim’s mother, said Wednesday that she was disappointed by the panel’s ruling and hopes the attorney general will appeal.

“I just have to put my faith in the justice system and the good Lord above and remember that even if Turner is set free, God knows the truth, and he will be judged accordingly one day,” Mrs. Evans said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Turner, of Bloomington, Ind., has seen his own hopes bolstered before, only to be deflated by more legal maneuvering. Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Frederick Lowe ruled in Mr. Turner’s favor in June 2008, but the appeals court decided it needed to hear oral arguments before accepting or rejecting the ruling.

“It’s been one waiting period after another,” Mr. Turner said. “I just tried to go through the normal routine and not think about it too much - just take it day by day.”

After the oral arguments in April, Mr. Turner got in the habit of calling his attorney, David Hargett, every Tuesday - the day appeals court rulings are issued. He finally got the news he had been hoping to hear.

“I was joyful, of course,” Mr. Turner said. “I was excited, but unlike my mother, who is very emotional, I wanted to hear more of the specifics about what this means for the near future.”

He then hung up and called his mother, Linda Summitt, who “was still crying and very emotional.”

“I’ve talked to some friends and family and rejoiced with them. It’s good to be able to share that information,” he said.

Along with vacating the convictions of murder and abduction with intent to defile, the appeals court found Mr. Turner guilty of being an accessory after the fact - a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Mr. Turner, who has admitted panicking and helping Brown dispose of the body, has no quarrel with that conviction.

“For 14 years now, I’ve accepted responsibility for what I did,” he said. “Although I was put in a position I shouldn’t have been in, I should not have reacted the way I did.”

Mr. Turner said his ordeal has made him “more conscious of morals and virtue and perhaps even spirituality.”

Meanwhile, the efforts to exonerate Mr. Turner have taken an emotional toll on Mrs. Evans and her husband, Al.

“I would not wish this on anyone,” she said. “I hope it’s the hardest thing God will ever ask me to do. But I’ve dedicated my life to keeping Jennifer’s memory alive - whatever it takes, to my dying breath.”

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