Mom of former SEAL trainee convicted of murder hopes film will free son

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jun 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-18 18:38:41-04

The mother of a former Navy SEAL trainee whose murder conviction has vexed several judges says she hopes a documentary about the case will lead to a pardon.

"My son has served 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit," said Linda Summitt. "And he needs to come home."

The documentary, "Target of Opportunity," is scheduled for a 7 p.m. showing at the Naro on Norfolk's Colley Avenue Thursday. It explores the case of Dusty Turner whose murder conviction has been challenged several times in the past several years.

His mother hopes the film will generate calls to Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office, leading to a pardon. It's the only hope left for Turner's freedom.

In 1995, Turner was 20 and in the final stages of SEAL training. While out at a bar with his swim buddy Billy Joe Brown, he met a vacationing college student. In his car parked outside, Turner and Jennifer Evans talked. Then Brown, drunk and angry, climbed into the car. In moments, Evans was dead.

What happened next doomed Turner to a murder conviction, even though he says it was Brown who killed the student. Turner drove away with the corpse in the car. He and Brown dumped the body in Newport News. They told no one. Police and federal agents questioned them at least three times. Each time, Turner lied, and said he knew nothing about what happened. Eight days later, when he failed a lie-detector test, he confessed. He led police to the body. And upon hearing Turner had broken, Brown also confessed.

But both sailors blamed each other. Police and prosecutors couldn't prove whose hands caused the death, so they used a Virginia law that says if two people participate in a murder, then they're both guilty. Juries agreed and sent the men to prison for virtual life sentences.

Years later, Brown confessed that he alone was the killer, that Turner only helped hide the body and cover up the crime. Turner's mother says her son's actions that night were awful. But, he should've faced a misdemeanor for helping, not a prison sentence for murder.

In a series of hearings, several judges agreed with her. But others said the conviction should stand.

That legal rollercoaster "was like a thousand deaths," she said.

The final appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court kept Turner locked up.

The mother from Indiana has spent more money to free her son than she can count. The stress she says also made her husband sick. He died two years ago. She admits she's worn and weary from this fight, but says she's not giving  up.

"As long as I am alive and he is in prison, we'll just keep fighting," she said.

This is a website created by Turner's supporters: The site has more information on the documentary.