by Carrington Brown

My life would have been a lot simpler had I not met Dustin Turner almost five years ago. Dustin has been in prison for 18 years for a crime he did not commit — a crime to which his SEAL swim partner has admitted. Unless Governor Bob McDonnell accepts a recently filed clemency petition, the Commonwealth will hold Dustin in prison for 82 years … with no parole.

As  a mother of five sons, I have never been involved in politics or the judicial system. But I was so confused and perturbed by the injustice I saw that I could not sleep at night. This was not how our justice system was supposed to work.

The more I studied the case, the more I became convinced that Dustin deserved his freedom. Dustin, who comes from a Midwestern family with strong values, was only a few weeks away from his dream of graduating as one of the youngest U.S. Navy SEALS in the country. On the night of June 19th, 18 years ago, when he and college student Jennifer Evans were sitting in a car in the lit parking lot of a bar, his SEAL swim buddy, a very drunk Billy Joe Brown, showed up at the car needing a ride home. Jennifer let him into the car in the seat behind her. After she smacked his hand away from her hair, he killed her in a drunken rage.

The media circus that surrounded the case in Virginia Beach clouded the truth. The citizens of Virginia need to learn the facts of this case.

I feel so strongly that our justice system in Virginia has failed that I have gathered a group of citizens — lawyers, business people, a rehab consultant, a grandmother, a PR person, and many others — to gain clemency for Dustin from Gov. McDonnell. All legal avenues have been exhausted, so clemency is his only hope to spend the second half of his life free.

Clemency was created for cases where the law failed. Dustin and his swim buddy were tried separately and convicted with different versions of the same crime from the prosecutor. In Virginia, if someone is killed during the course of a crime, all participants can be charged with murder. According to the Commonwealth, Dustin and Brown abducted Jennifer with an intent to defile, so Dustin was as guilty of murder as the man who actually killed her. But there was no abduction. The prosecutor and appellate court judges invented the theory contrary to all evidence. As as a SEAL who was indoctrinated to protect his swim buddy at all costs and as an impulsive teenage male, a panicked Dustin helped hide Jennifer’s body — a misdemeanor calling for 12 months in prison, not 18 years. He later led police to the body and told them the truth after his superiors told him he could protect his swim buddy no longer. Read more.

Carrington Brown is a painter, landscape designer, wife and mother who lives in Goochland County.

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7 responses to “A Call for Clemency”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    Ms. Brown:

    I look forward to watching the full documentary. However, from the evidence presented in your post, film clip and website, I think it will be unlikely for a petition of clemency to be granted. If I were Gov McDonnell I would want to know the following:

    1. What was Mr. Turner’s intent with Ms. Evans that night? Why were they sitting in his car rather than back in the bar?

    2. Mr. Brown is described as being very intoxicated. Was Ms. Evans or Mr. Turner also intoxicated? If so, how intoxicated?

    3. Given that Mr. Brown was very intoxicated why are any of his recollections believable? Why did it take him so long to come forward with the truth?

    4. Once Mr. Brown recanted his version of events why was a writ of actual innocence the chosen path? Wouldn’t a new jury trial have been a more likely path to freedom for Mr. Turner?

    5. Did Mr. Turner have any history of violence or law-breaking prior to the murder of Ms. Evans?

    Mr. Turner may well be innocent of murder. Handsome young men without violent backgrounds rarely conspire to kidnap and rape young women. Unless, of course, those handsome young men were so drunk that they lost control.

    Your description of the events contains repeated references to the drunkenness of Mr. Brown on the night in question. However, there is no description of Mr. Turner’s mental state that night. Witnesses must have observed Mr. Turner and they must have given testimony in the trial. What did they say? Have either Mr. Turner or Mr. Brown been given polygraph tests? What were the results?

    While no two cases are the same, I closely followed the case of Roger Keith Coleman. Coleman was accused of murder in Grundy, VA in 1981. He was tried and convicted. He was executed in 1992. There was a vast outpouring of public opinion that Mr. Coleman was innocent. Several alibi witnesses swore that Mr. Coleman could not have committed the murder. Time magazine put Coleman on its cover. Gov Wilder received 13,000 calls for clemency.

    In 2006, four years after Coleman’s execution, Gov Warner released the forensic evidence in the case for use in new DNA testing.

    The evidence was conclusive. Roger Keith Coleman most definitely raped, stabbed and almost beheaded Wanda McCoy.

    Perhaps the full documentary will answer many of the questions left unanswered by the film clip and website. If so, I will consider signing the petition.

    1. Jmalford Avatar

      Sorry if part of this came in before. Computer keeps turning off.
      I work in the legal field and have put in over 1000 volunteer hours in recent years on this case. I too was reluctant to believe this until I read every detail and document. This took a long time.
      1. Dustin’s intent with Jennifer was to talk to her/spend 45 minutes with her as the bar was closing. They were going to listen to music in the car. Jennifer was so excited she was described as “skipping” in the bar. Her friends agreed to come back and pick her up in 45 mionutes. No Navy SEAL would be dumb enough to perform an abduction in front of many people who knew him, in a bar, where he provided his phone number and license to people, who was parked in a well lit parking lot with police coverage. It is ridiculous. He did not have to abduct anyone. Women were always interested in him. Jennifer walked out with him away from the loud bar noise and agreed with her friends, in front of Dustin, they would pick her up in 45 minutes. You can not get INTO the SEALS if you show that type of judgement that the prosecution created. Dustin even arranged a ride home for Billy Brown with one of Billy’s old girlfriends. Billy in his state of mind got tired of waiting for his ride to leave and stumble out to the car where Dustin and Jenifer were talking. He got into the back seat, bagan making disparaging remarks to Jennifer and was pulling at her hair. She smacked his hand away and told him to stop and he killed her in secondes. Dustin tried to pry away his grip but it was over.
      3. Billy made up 3 versions of the crime prior to trial as he was angry at Dustin for going to the police and taking them to the victim’s body. He felt he had been betrayed- a violation of a cardinal rule with the SEALS.

      I am sure he remembers a fair amount about killing Jennifer as that kind of act forces the body into heightened alert with a rush of cortisol/adrenaline and other brain/gland chemical excretions. He was a well conditioned alcoholic.
      He had NO motivation to later confess in prison (and at other times) other than self interest. He wanted to get square with God as that was all that was left for him. I don’t think he cared so much about Dustin’s plight although maybe some of his prior military training added a small bit of encouragement to come clean.
      4. The writ was pusued instead of a retrial due to the fact it was the best option. The circumstances likely required a writ and did not offer the option for retrial and the experienced attorney knew where he needed to go. Don’t second guess that unless you are an experienced criminal atttorney. Remember how we struggled with the 21 day rule and many other obstacles that prevented true justice.
      4. As mentioned Dustin has no prior record or history of mental illness or substance abuse. He was a good student and athlete and the youngest in his SEAL class. Yes he was likely immature, and lacked the best judgement due to his brain at age 19 that would not be developed for another 6 years and his training that was an absolute: NO SEAL is ever left behind. It is likely the only branch of the military where no member of the team has EVER been left behind dead or alive and despite the casualties that result for going back for a body.

      2. Jennifer and Dustin were not intoxicated. I believe he had one to 2 beers the entire evening. This was investigated and is easy to track. Billy Brown was an functioning alcoholic/drug and steriod user. He was kicked out of the Coast Guard for punching an officer and we don’t know how he got in the SEALS after that. They won’t release that info or polygraph info on Dustin. Billy was arrested in front of police for assaulting his pregnant 14 year old wife before he was accepted in the SEALS. He had a very sad up bringing, troubles in school and well documented anger issues. Dustin grew up in a stable mid-western home with employed parents (mom a teacher) and siblings who are also accomplished. He had no prior record and excelled in swimming. His father and other immediate family members are or have been in the military and are hardworking and moral people. Billy was several years older than Dustin.

      You need to see the film. There is video of Billy and Dustin in BUDS training. You are able to see them as they were back then. Aside from all of this, Dustin’s case brings about other concerning issues the public does not know. The prosecutor of this case is one of 8 former prosecutors on the Appeals Court. Even though Humpries (Dustin’s prosecutor) recused himself from voting on the case, you should be able to see how this works. They protect each other because they know one day one of their old cases may come back before them. Also in Dustin’s case the prosecution destroyed critical physical evidence. The defense attorney age 72 at the time did a terrible job and was allegedly in the early stages of dementia. Too many things to mention. All of this is in addition to a confession and other facts. Please try to see the film. Jane

  2. larryg Avatar

    There are cases where the criminal justice system acted inappropriately, withheld evidence, refused to take or ignored DNA, etc, i.e. the kinds of cases found in the “Innocence Project” but in this case it appears that a terrible thing happened in the presence of two people and there are questions about whether one of them was totally innocent and not complicit..

    Did he attempt to help or defend the victim? what did he do immediately after? did he try to get her to a medical facility? How can someone be “instantly” killed by a choke hold?

    I think the law could have erred but basically this seems to be the judgement that he was complicit in the act and therefore considered guilty – a harsh verdict for sure but not the same as those falsely convinced in the Innocence Project.

    He made a bad mistake when he conspired to dispose of the body. Had he not done that and instead took her to a hospital and then turned himself in, he would have likely not been viewed as a co-conspirator.

    there are a ton of people in prison that made similar mistakes.

    I’ll give the benefit of the doubt as to his motives but like I said, there are a lot of people in prison who were present at crimes and considered complicit by their silence and lack of opposition to the crime.

  3. cpbrown Avatar

    Dustin Turner was NOT drunk.He did try to pry Billy Hands away from Ms Evans as Brown tells the Judge when he tells the true story. Turners lawyer missed the appeal date,evidence was destroyed among other things. go see the film June 13. It will answer the questions.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I will endeavor to see the full film. Whether I can be in Richmond on June 13 is an issue. Probably not. I hope you will make the film available over the internet even if you have to charge a price to watch it.

      In my opinion, the fact that Dustin Turner was sober is a major point of reference to the people you want to sign that petition. If he also has no history of criminal acts and he passed a lie detector test then it starts to look like a slam dunk. As I mentioned, sober, successful young men with no history of criminal behavior do not spontaneously decide to kidnap and rape young women. However, drunk young men who abuse steroids (as is alleged against Mr. Brown) have some likelihood of “snapping”. The colloquial term for this is “roid rage”.

  4. cpbrown Avatar

    No criminal record. ( No problem the last 17 years in jail. Dustin has started a green program among other good deeds in the various prisons where he has been incarcerated) every time I visit him someone comes up and thanks him for being a help to their brother son or child.
    Will find out about the lie detector test

  5. larryg Avatar

    I’m afraid I’m going to be a harder case to convince.

    As soon as he made the decision to join with the perpetrator to hide the body, he made terrible decision that he cannot really undo.

    Makes me wonder what the teach the Seals …

    Had he turned at the point the woman was killed and gone directly to the police, I would have been much more inclined to believe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time through no fault of his own.

    When you are present when another person is killed – I would think there would be a visceral reaction that would go to the core of your own belief of right and wrong – no matter who the “friend” was.

    that’s a moral compass that should be with you – no matter the circumstance or others involved.

    You act on who you are.

    nothing SHOULD dissuade you no matter who the “buddy” is.

    your “buddy” turned out to be a murderer and what was your response? – to “help” him – as if the murdered girl was of little consequence.

    that’s depraved in my book.

    I’m sorry…. I do not understand this. Put yourself in his position. Would you be a witness to a murder and then agree to help hide the body?

    you’d be horrified, right?

    I think this young man made a very bad, bad decision and I would hope there is a way for him to come back from it but truthfully, if I had been on the jury .. I would not have considered him innocent and I would have been deeply troubled by his failure to do what was right after the woman was killed.

    I wish him well and if he prevails, I also wish him well. I feel terrible that he’d spend the rest of his life paying for his very bad judgement… a terrible waste.

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