A former Navy SEAL trainee testified Wednesday that he alone killed a Georgia college student, a crime that sent him and a friend to prison.
Billy Joe Brown testified in Virginia Circuit Court as part of Dustin Turner's bid to get his conviction overturned. The two were stationed at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, training to become elite Navy commandos, when premed student Jennifer Evans disappeared from a Virginia Beach bar in June 1995.
Turner and Brown were convicted of killing her in separate jury trials. But in a sworn statement in 2003, Brown said he was the only one responsible for Evans' death.
He said he became a Christian in prison and realized he had to come clean.
"I am here to glorify Jesus Christ by telling the truth," he said Wednesday. "If it helps Dusty, that's great."
Hearing will determine next steps
Wednesday's hearing, which will determine the credibility of Brown's confession, was granted by the Virginia Court of Appeals under a law allowing inmates to present newly discovered evidence of innocence.
After a judge determines whether Brown's confession is credible, the case will go back to the appeals court, which must decide whether it would have changed the outcome.
If so, Turner, 33, would be freed, said his attorney, David B. Hargett. Prosecutors, who said in court Wednesday that Brown has contradicted his story and isn't credible, could appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Brown said Wednesday that he choked Evans but claimed Turner did it because he was angry that Turner snitched to investigators.
Brown said he and Turner went drinking at an oceanfront bar when Turner met Evans, a 21-year-old Emory University student from Tucker, Ga. Tired of waiting for another woman to give him a ride home, Brown said he joined Turner and Evans in a car, sliding in the back seat behind Evans.
Brown said he talked to them and played with Evans' hair.
"One minute I was normal. The next minute I snapped and I started choking her," Brown testified.
Turner testified at his trial that he helped Brown dispose of the body but did not kill Evans. Prosecutors had theorized that the men conspired to abduct her and that she died during a sexual assault.
Both initially denied involvement, then blamed each other. Nine days after Evans disappeared, Turner led police to her decomposed body in a park 30 miles away.
Turner was sentenced to 82 years in prison for first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile. Brown was sentenced to 72 years for conviction on the same charges plus attempted rape.
If Turner loses this round in court, he could try petitioning Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for clemency, an option that Hargett said has little promise.
The previous governor, Mark R. Warner, denied a pardon request in 2005.