McDonnell passes clemency petition to successor

LARRY O'DELL Associated Press Published:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A clemency petition for a former Navy SEAL trainee imprisoned for the 1995 slaying of a vacationing Georgia college student has been passed along to Virginia's next governor, a spokeswoman for outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell said Friday.

Taylor Keeney said McDonnell asked the Virginia Parole Board to investigate Dustin Turner's claims and make a recommendation to Terry McAuliffe, who will be sworn in as governor Saturday. The nine-page petition was filed with McDonnell's office in May.

"My heart's broken," Turner's mother, Linda Summitt of Bloomington, Ind., said in a telephone interview. "It's like a thousand deaths I have to go through. It just continues and continues. Dusty will call me tonight and I will have to break the news to him, and he will be the one comforting me."

Turner, 38, is serving an 82-year prison sentence for the slaying of 21-year-old Emory University pre-med student Jennifer Evans outside a Virginia Beach bar. Another former SEAL trainee, Billy Joe Brown of Dayton, Ohio, also was convicted in a separate trial and is serving 72 years.

Brown originally blamed Turner for the killing, but he changed his story in 2003. Saying he had become a Christian and wanted to set the record straight, Brown claimed in sworn affidavits that he alone strangled Evans and that all Turner did was help him dispose of her body at a Newport News park. Nevertheless, Turner's bids for exoneration in the courts have failed, leaving clemency as his only hope of getting released in a state that abolished parole in 1994.

Last summer, a former Navy special warfare operator released a documentary -- "Target of Opportunity: The US Navy SEALs and the Murder of Jennifer Evans" -- championing Turner's cause.

Summitt's hopes for clemency for her son were further buoyed this week when Ann Marie Riggs, the daughter of one of the prosecutors who sent Turner to prison, went public with her support for clemency. Riggs said her father, Albert Alberi, would have privately supported her decision. Alberi, who was chief deputy prosecutor for Virginia Beach, died the year after Brown confessed to acting alone.

Riggs, who collected 400 signatures on a petition that was delivered to the governor's office Thursday evening, said she was disappointed by McDonnell's decision.

"We'll just have to continue to work hard on this," she said. "I just pray the Parole Board will investigate and do the right thing."

Although parole has been abolished for crimes committed before 1994, the board has an investigator who can review clemency and pardon requests. Such investigations can take months.

Had the governor denied the petition outright, Turner would have had to wait two years to file a new one.

Turner's attorney, David Hargett, did not immediately return a voice mail message.

Turner has maintained his innocence from the beginning but acknowledges being guilty of accessory after the fact -- a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail -- for helping Brown hide the woman's body.

Prosecutors claimed that Brown and Turner lured Evans out of the nightclub intent on having a three-way sexual encounter and killed her in Turner's car when she resisted.

According to Turner, he and Evans were sitting in the front seat of the car when a drunken and hostile Brown climbed into the back seat, reached over and strangled the woman. In the affidavit recanting his original story, Brown said Turner tried to pull his hands away while he was choking Evans.