Actual Innocence in Virginia: Dustin Allen Turner

 

 

Neptune 

 

We at BTR have recently been asked to participate in ongoing efforts to reach Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and to seek clemency for Dustin Allen Turner in the 1995 Virginia Beach murder of Jennifer Lea Evans. This article serves as an introduction and will headline a series on this infamous case in the weeks to come. In January 2018 Governor McAuliffe will be stepping down due to term limits in Virginia. We here at BTR are incredibly sensitive to victims and their families and our sincerest regrets go out to the family of Ms. Jennifer Evans. As we dig deeper into this case, interview participants, and consider the legal process, we hope to seek understanding as to what went wrong in Virginia. Actual Innocence, as defined by Virginia law, is a concept that deserves our attention and needs to be addressed.

 

In the early morning hours of June 19, 1995, Andria Burdette and Michelle McCammon, returned to the parking lot of The Bayou nightclub in Virginia Beach, Virginia. A trendy club with a Southern ambience, The Bayou was a part of the then Radisson Virginia Beach complex, a half mile from the sands of the Atlantic shoreline. Burdette and McCammon had returned around closing time at 2:00AM, looking to pick up their friend, Jennifer Evans. The three young women had decided around 11:00PM to go into town to socialize and check out the Virginia Beach nightlife. During the next several hours, the lives of all three women would be forever changed.

Jennifer Lea Evans was a Dean’s List, pre-med student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. By all accounts, Jennifer Evans was not known as a “party girl” and was more comfortable with a book or a Disney movie than the nightclub scene. Jennifer had flown to Virginia Beach from her home in Georgia to spend a week with Andria Burdette, her former college roommate. While Virginia Beach is a known tourist destination due to its long Atlantic coastline and beach, this was not a particularly busy time of year, nor Spring Break atmosphere. In fact, Jennifer Evans planned to get in some work while on vacation, having brought along her application for medical school.

Accounts of the events that unfolded beginning June 18, 1995, are hazy and somewhat unclear due to changing stories of the participants and the passage of time. What is clear is that during that fateful evening, the three friends crossed paths with two soon-to-be Navy SEALs named Dustin Allen Turner and Billy Joe Brown while at The Bayou. Billy Joe Brown’s accounts of the evening would change many times over the course of the investigation to follow, as would Turner’s to a lesser degree. The two men generally agree that on this particular evening, the hard-drinking Brown was not interested in women or sex, but was instead hell-bent on drunken reverie. Brown was a notorious drinker, working his way up to a case of beer and an entire bottle of 151 proof rum per day at his apex according to some accounts.

Brown and Turner were virtually inseparable as friends and as training partners at the local Navy SEAL Team headquarters at Little Creek Amphibious Base. The two young men were what was termed “swim buddies”, a designation given by SEAL staff as potential candidates navigate the SEAL training program. During this process, trainees are separated by height (to facilitate drills where inflatable boats are carried atop the SEALs’ heads, or when 250 pound wooden poles are carried). Once grouped by height, the teams are then broken into swim buddy pairs as a further training method. During many drills and exercises, swim buddies are not allowed to be more than six feet from their partner. This requirement promotes teamwork and responsibility to fellow SEALs. The way SEALs are trained and their unquestioning loyalty to team members would come under heavy scrutiny because of the ensuing case.

At some point in the evening of June 18, Jennifer Evans apparently became interested in Dustin Turner. Andria Burdette, the more street-savvy of the group was not as impressed by Turner’s claims of being a Navy SEAL and asked for identification, which Turner provided. As the evening played out, Turner and Evans seemed to hit it off and huddled talking and getting to know each other. Stories diverge over the exact timing and intent of the involved participants, but at some point, around 1:00AM Burdette and McCammon wanted to leave. Evans wanted to stay and Turner offered to drive her home to Burdette’s beach house. The girls eventually compromised, agreeing that Jennifer could stay for another hour, when the other two would return to pick her up. Jennifer was reportedly very happy with this solution and returned to the club with Turner. She would not be seen alive by her friends again.

At trial, Turner and Brown accused each other of the murder of Jennifer Evans and to this day, the details of exactly what happened are known only to the two men involved, and unfortunately, the victim. Later in this series we will look at the stories told by Turner and Brown as the investigation wore on. Even the details of how precisely Jennifer Evans met her end are in doubt. What is known is that Brown ultimately admitted to choking Ms. Evans to death while sitting behind her on the passenger side rear of Turner’s Geo Storm car. Finding a rationale for why Jennifer Evans is suddenly attacked and murdered is troubling. Brown made several conflicting statements to law enforcement during the investigation. Brown and Turner reportedly had a history of sharing sexual partners. The State ultimately settled on a version of Brown’s retelling that involved both Brown and Turner wanting to have a threesome with Evans. Her refusal then the motivation for Brown snapping and killing her.

Several other theories of the crime exist, and we will discuss these in other installments. Of prime importance is the version prosecuted by the state. We see quite a few problems with this version as originally confessed by Brown. The theory of a threesome involving Brown is next to impossible due to his state of drunkenness. Brown was nearly losing consciousness according to witnesses at closing time on June 19, 1995, and has supposedly very few memories of the events. The State also ultimately determined “luring” as a mitigating circumstance ensnaring Turner in murder via the underlying felony rule, even if he was not the one who physically attacked Evans. However, if Jennifer Evans felt the least bit endangered, she never would have agreed to stay with Turner that night and her friends would not have left her alone with him. Dustin was not drunk on the night in question and was able to drive after whatever happened inside the car when Ms. Evans was murdered. It is hard to imagine a scenario where Dustin Turner contributes to the death of Jennifer Evans. Turner eventually admitted participation in the crime as an accessory after the fact in helping to cover up the murder. He also cooperated with police and offered his car voluntarily for forensic examination. No evidence was recovered to back up Browns’ claims that it was Turner that murdered Jennifer Evans before he was in the car and no evidence that Ms. Evans was ever in the back seat of the car as claimed by Brown. These inconsistencies were only beginning.

While the case of Dustin Turner may be fraught with inconsistencies and factual omissions or conflicting statements and testimony, one fact stands out. The trial court in this case declared Dustin Turner “Actually Innocent”, according to newly established (at the time) Virginia law. The fact that a trial court reversed its own original decision is staggering. The fact that the Virginia Legislature took steps to help ensure rights for the wrongfully convicted is to be applauded. The way the case has been handled by the Virginia Court of Appeals and Virginia Supreme Court is a story unto itself. We will cover these and other developments in future installments to this important series. We hope you will join us in our quest for justice and in urging Governor McAuliffe to right a wrong 20 years in the making.

Filmmaker JD Leete addresses the case in his film: Target of Opportunity: The US Navy SEALs and the Murder of Jennifer Evans 

The free version is on Vimeo here:

 

We encourage everyone to visit the pay versions of the film on Vimeo, iTunes, or Amazon as this money benefits the cause.

Amazon Prime version

iTunes

Disclaimer: We at BTR were not involved with the production of the above film and make no claims as to the accuracy or editing used in said production. The film is meant to provide the reader with a quick overview of the case, and is by no means complete in detail, nor a representation of the complete facts surrounding the Dustin Turner story.

 

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