In 1995, Dustin Turner and Billy Joe Brown were in the final weeks of 15 months of training to become U.S. Navy SEALs. Handsome and athletic, Dusty and Brown were paired first as “swim buddies” (a SEAL term). Later, they became roommates and best friends. At 20-years-old, Dusty was a blond-haired, blue-eyed former high school swimmer from Bloomington, IN. He was widely regarded as a polite, popular boy. Brown, then 23, was a former Coast Guard drop-out from Huber Heights, OH, who had been raised in a broken home and at times seemed aloof and distant from his SEAL teammates. Jennifer Evans was a petite, sweet-natured 21-year-old from Tucker, GA. She was the only child of Al and Delores Evans. She was a gifted student at Emory University in Atlanta approaching graduation, and was in Virginia Beach on vacation with college friends.
On the evening of June 18, 1995, Jennifer was with her girlfriends at a popular Virginia Beach bar when she met Dusty. She was seen holding hands with him at 1:00 a.m., and had arranged to meet her friends an hour later in the bar’s parking lot. When her friends returned at 2:00 a.m., both Jennifer and Dusty were gone. Rattled by Jennifer's uncharacteristic disappearance, her girlfriends searched the parking lot. In the span of one hour, a carefree evening out had become a living nightmare.
An intense missing person investigation was launched as Virginia Beach police scoured streets, homes, beaches and bars seeking leads. A missing tourist in a community driven by hospitality increased the stakes. The City's reputation and commerce were potentially at risk.
Dusty and Brown were interrogated separately but police lacked solid evidence linking them to Jennifer. Eventually, increased pressure on Dusty led him to confess that he had no role in Jennifer's murder, but rather was guilty of being an assessory-after-the fact
According to Dusty, he, Jennifer and Brown were sitting in his car waiting for Jennifer's friends to return. Brown, who was extremely drunk, suddenly attacked Jennifer from the back seat in an inexplicable rage. Dusty claimed that he panicked and drove away. Eight days later, Dusty led police to Jennifer's body, half-buried in a wooded area of a park in Newport News. Dusty was then released and Brown was arrested.
When confronted with Dusty's version of events, Brown angrily countered and gave police a confession that put the blame on Dusty as the perpetrator. Dusty was quickly arrested. Now police had two alleged killers, once loyal friends, with each man claiming he had merely assisted in disposing of Jennifer's body and concealing the crime.
Virginia Beach police charged Brown and Dusty for the abduction and felony murder of Jennifer. They alleged that Brown and Dusty had acted in a “concert of action” to commit the crime, and determining which of them was the actual murderer was irrelevant under Virginia law. They portrayed the SEAL trainees as sexual predators in search of a target, and alleged the crime occurred when Jennifer did not cooperate.
Despite intense local media coverage and community outrage over Jennifer's murder, defense attorneys for both Brown and Dusty were unable to move their trials to an alternate jurisdiction. Brown was tried first, and he maintained that he did not murder Jennifer. He claimed that “she was dead when I got to the car,” and that all he had done was protect his swim buddy Dusty, whom he “loved like a brother.” Brown was convicted and sentenced to 72 years in prison. In a separate, televised trial, Dusty faced the daunting task of proving his innocence after his co-defendant had been found guilty. Three months later, Dusty was convicted and sentenced to 82 years in prison. However, the foreman of the jury later stated in a letter to Governor Warner that he believed "the majority of the jury felt that Dustin was innocent of participating in any way with the murder."
In May 2002, Brown made an audiotape confession and signed an affidavit stating that he alone had murdered Jennifer in a drunken rage after he had entered the car where Dusty and Jennifer were sitting. Rebuffed after a sexual advance, Brown reacted by snapping Jennifer's neck from the backseat. Shockingly, he also revealed that he had attempted to sexually assault her corpse, before Dusty intervened and stopped him. David Hargett, Dusty's attorney, spent the next six years trying to enter Brown’s confession into evidence and overturn Dusty's conviction.
In May 2008, Dusty was granted an evidentiary hearing by the Commonwealth of Virginia to evaluate Brown’s credibility. Brown took the stand, explained his lifelong issues with anger and lack of conscience, and exonerated Dusty of everything but hiding the crime.
In a landmark ruling in August 2009, the Virginia State Court of Appeals three-judge panel overturned Dusty's conviction, making him the first convicted murderer in Virginia to be declared innocent without DNA evidence. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia State Attorney General’s office quickly filed an appeal to keep Dusty incarcerated. The “en banc” Court of Appeals, on which the former prosecutor of this case, Robert Humphreys, now sits, ruled that the panel was wrong and that a jury could have still found Turner guilty even with Brown’s credible confession to committing the murder without Dusty's acting in concert. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia. However, the Appeals Court ruling was affirmed and the Supreme Court did not honor the Writ of Actual Innocence that had been granted to Dusty.
This has been tragic miscarriage of justice against a brave and dedicated young man who was willing to give his life in defense of his country as a member of the most elite fighting force in the world. When faced with exposing his friend and swim buddy to criminal charges for what he perceived as drunken act of rage, Dusty panicked and hid the crime for 8 days. When police explained to him that Jennifer's family needed to know what had happened to their daughter, Dusty took them to her body without consulting a lawyer. Had he done so, it is likely that he would not be is spending 82 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Please sign our petition and tell Governor McAuliffe that you know the facts of this case, and that you expect him to do the right thing and pardon Dusty. Please tell him that if examines the evidence closely,he will come to the inevitable conclusion Dustin Turner is innocent of abduction and murder.
Please find contact information for Governor McAuliffe below.
If you would like to learn more about Dusty and his case, please go to: www.freedusty.com. On this site, you can view a trailer of the soon-to-be-released documentary about the case called "Target of Opportunity".
Thank you for your interest in and support of Dusty's efforts to win his freedom.
Governor Terry McAuliffe
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Fax: (804) 371-6351
TTY/TDD (For the Hearing Impaired):
1-800-828-1120, or 711
Dustin Turner filed a petition for a conditional pardon with the Office of the Governor in the fall of 2013. Before leaving office, Governor McDonnell declined to rule on his petition and requested that your office direct the Virginia Parole Board to initiate an in-depth investigation of Dustin's case. As a supporter of this online petition to pardon Dustin Turner, I urge you to consider the following important points of his case.
• In 2002 Billy Joe Brown confessed to the murder of Jennifer Evans and stated that Dustin Turner had no involvement in it.
• Francis Folis Jones, Retired Senior Psychiatrist with the Virginia Department of Corrections, concluded after his multiple interviews of Dustin Turner as he entered the system, that Dustin is one of only two inmates in his 23-year career that he believes to be innocent. Jones believes Brown’s confession and has written: “In my professional opinion, based on twenty three years’ experience, his (Brown’s) current testimony has the ring of truth to it. He has absolutely nothing to gain by absolving Dustin for the actual murder. In his primitive self-serving mind he has fully embraced his new found religion and is acting according to it, and I believe what he is saying is the truth”.
• Retired Navy SEAL John Floyd was assigned to investigate the murder of Jennifer Evans in response to a lawsuit against the Navy by her parents. After months of conducting a thorough investigation, he concluded that Dustin had no role in Jennifer’s murder, and hid the crime out of fear and misplaced loyalty to his “swim buddy” Brown.
• Dustin’s story has not changed since he led the police to Jennifer’s body in 1995 and it is consistent with Brown’s confession.
• In 2008 Judge Frederick Lowe ruled that Brown’s confession was credible.
• In 2008 a three judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that Dustin be granted a writ of actual innocence.
• Judge Cleo Powell of the Court of Appeals based her decision on the theory of “abduction by deception” that was never argued during Dustin’s or Brown’s trials or during the subsequent appeals.
• In his letter to Governor Warner’s legal counsel in 2005, the foreman of the jury in Dustin’s trial, Alan Reed, said that “I do feel the majority of the jury felt that Dustin was innocent of participating in any way with the murder. I do support any action taken on behalf of Dustin Turner. In the hearts of the jury, I am sure they would say that he has spent enough time in prison and justice has been served.”
• Judge Robert Humphreys was the prosecutor in Dustin’s and Brown’s trials and has since been appointed to the Court of Appeals. William Mims served on the Court of Appeals when it overturned the ruling of the three judge panel. He was a member of the Virginia Supreme Court when it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. Although Judges Humphreys and Mims recused themselves during Dustin’s appeals, there remains the question of whether their presence on the Courts affected decisions to reject all of his appeals.
• A documentary about the murder of Jennifer Evans called “Target of Opportunity” is in the final stages of production and will be released this year. The film’s creator JD Leete spent 12 of his 21 year Navy career serving as a tactical communicator delivering SEALs to and from their targets. He is probably one of the foremost experts on this case. His many years of research about this case and his first-hand knowledge of the SEALs, and how they think and act, have led him to conclude that Dustin had no role in the murder of Jennifer Evans.
In summary, the critical question I ask you is this: If you have examined the facts of this case with an open and objective mind, why would you NOT grant clemency to Dustin Turner?
Thank you for your interest in and consideration of my request that you pardon Dustin Turner.