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Film about SEAL trainee's role in slaying draws crowd

Aug. 5, 2013 - 12:05PM   |  
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BLOOMINGTON, IND. — A documentary about a former Navy SEAL trainee convicted in a college student’s 1995 killing drew such a large crowd in the man’s Indiana hometown organizers had to delay the film’s start.

After people kept flooding into Bloomington’s Buskirk-Chumley Theater to watch “Target of Opportunity: The U.S. Navy SEALs and the Murder of Jennifer Evans,” organizers pushed back the film’s Sunday start by 20 minutes.

Friends and relatives of Bloomington native Dustin Turner stood in the theater’s packed lobby before the film began circulating a petition that calls for Turner’s release from a Virginia prison.

Turner’s mother, Linda Summitt, told The Herald-Times she was touched by the large turnout for the film, which was seen by about 260 people.

“I was overwhelmed, but I was pleased with the amount of people that came in,” she said. “I thought it was amazing.”

Turner is serving an 82-year sentence for the June 1995 slaying of Jennifer Evans, a vacationing 21-year-old Emory University pre-med student he met at a Virginia Beach nightclub. Another former SEAL trainee, Billy Joe Brown of Dayton, Ohio, was convicted in a separate trial and is serving 72 years.

Brown originally blamed Turner for the killing but changed his story in 2003, saying he alone strangled Evans and that Turner had tried to pull his hands from the woman’s neck during the attack.

Brown said he originally implicated Turner because he was angered when Turner told police about the murder and led them to a spot where the pair had buried Evans’ body.

A judge found Brown’s confession credible, and a divided panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals exonerated Turner.

But the panel’s decision was overturned by the full appeals court and the Virginia Supreme Court, exhausting all of Turner’s appeals. A clemency petition is pending with Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Judy Arthur, who identified herself as Turner’s aunt, said Sunday she believes the film could lead to a change in Turner’s status.

“I think something might happen with this,” she said. “Something’s got to happen. He’s been there 18 years.”

JD Leete, a retired Navy officer who made the documentary, fielded audience questions along with Summitt following Sunday’s screening. One of the first questions was about the title.

Leete said “Target of Opportunity” is a military term that can be applied to the way prosecutors handled Turner.

“If you’re hunting bin Laden and his chief of operations walks in, he becomes a target of opportunity,” he said. “That is, I think, what happened to Dustin.”

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