J.D. Leete’s documentary about the case of Dustin Turner will be shown in Richmond on June 13. Photo by Isaac Harrell
Navy veteran J. D. Leete spent much of his military career delivering Navy SEALs to and from the target. He knows how they operate, he says, and that is why he doesn't believe former SEAL trainee Dustin Turner was responsible for the 1995 murder of college student Jennifer Evans, who was strangled in Turner's car. Prosecutors at the time argued that both Turner and his SEAL "swim buddy" Billy Joe Brown, each of whom implicated the other, were involved in Evans' death, and Turner was sentenced to 82 years in prison without parole. "It's always smelled funny to me," says Leete. Now retired and living in Richmond, he has spent the past six years working on an investigative documentary titled Target of Opportunity: The US Navy SEALs and the Murder of Jennifer Evans, which will be shown at the Criterion Cinemas at Movieland on June 13 at 7 p.m. (For tickets, visit brownpapertickets.com/event/383545 .)
In 2002, Brown confessed that he alone killed Evans. In 2008, a ruling from Virginia Beach Circuit Judge Frederick Lowe said that Brown's admission was credible. A year later, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals said that Turner should be freed. When that ruling was overturned in 2011 by the full appeals court, Turner appealed the case to the Virginia Supreme Court. "I expected him to win and walk out of prison," says Leete, who filmed the hearings. But the court rejected Turner's exoneration bid last year, on the grounds that there still could be a question of whether Turner abducted Evans intending to cause her harm — Turner has always said that he and Evans walked out to his car to wait for her friends. As a result, the former SEAL trainee is still imprisoned.
"If the public [feels] that Turner should be incarcerated for the rest of his life for his actual role in the crime, so be it," Leete says, "but they should know all the facts."