Billboards along Interstates 95 and 64 in Richmond urge Gov. Bob McDonnell to pardon former Navy SEAL trainee Dustin Turner, convicted of the 1995 murder of a woman in Virginia Beach.
Turner, 38, and his supporters maintain he is innocent of the murder of Jennifer Evans, a 21-year-old Emory University student slain hours after she met Turner and his SEAL trainee buddy, Billy Joe Brown, at a nightclub.
The billboards went up as a petition for a conditional pardon sits before McDonnell — who leaves office Saturday — asking the governor to free Turner, who has served more than 18 years of an 82-year sentence.
A spokesman for the governor said late Wednesday that “we have received the application and it is going through the review process.”
In a story Wednesday in The Virginian-Pilot, Ann Marie Riggs of Virginia Beach, the daughter of the late Albert Alberi, who helped prosecute Turner, said she believes Turner is innocent and that her father believed Brown, not Turner, was the killer.
In addition, she told the newspaper that she has made a personal appeal to McDonnell, whom she described as noncommittal.
Reached by telephone, Turner’s mother, Linda Summitt of Indiana, said Wednesday, “I know that (the governor) has a lot of other cases. I know he has to think hard about all of them and just hope that he can pray tonight and tomorrow night on the right thing to do.”
Summitt said she speaks with her son frequently. “We don’t really talk a lot about whether we have hopes for what’s going to happen with the governor because it’s too hard for both of us,” she said. “I end up becoming a puddle.”
Delores Evans, mother of Jennifer Evans, said Wednesday that she believes Turner “has had his say and more than his say in the courts.” The governor should go by what the courts have held, she said.
She said the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously denied Turner’s bid to win a writ of actual innocence more than two years ago. She said it is upsetting for her and Jennifer’s family to have the issue come up every year or two.
Turner and Brown were convicted of the murder in 1996 after implicating each other. In a 2003 affidavit, however, Brown changed his story and said he alone killed Evans as the three of them sat in a car parked outside a club in Virginia Beach.
The two men took her body to a wooded area in a Newport News park, where it remained hidden for nine days. After Brown changed his story, Turner filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence with the Virginia Court of Appeals on the basis of the new evidence.
After conducting a hearing, a circuit court judge found Brown’s recantation and claim that he alone killed Evans to be credible.
But the writ petition eventually was rejected by the courts, which held that a rational juror could infer that Turner still could be guilty of abduction by deception with the intent to defile and, therefore, guilty of felony murder.
A change in state law last July replaced the word “could” with “would.”
David B. Hargett, a lawyer working for Turner, wrote in Turner’s petition for a conditional pardon, now before McDonnell, that had that change been in effect when the courts considered Turner’s case, there would have been a different result.
Hargett wrote that under current law, Turner cannot petition for a writ of actual innocence a second time but that McDonnell, as governor, can correct things the courts cannot.
“There is every reason to believe that, upon his release, Turner immediately will become a productive member in society. His one wish is for freedom; he will accomplish the rest on his own,” Turner’s petition contends.
In an email, Paul Cuddihy, treasurer of a group called Virginians for Judicial Reform, said he paid for the billboards on behalf of Virginians for Judicial Reform and will be partially reimbursed by the organization and members of the board.
He said the messages, which cost $300 a day, are set to run until midnight Saturday.