The headline that brought me to a Navy seal reunion in Coronado is simple and startling. "seal training caused murder, lawsuit says."
The story was published in the Virginian-Pilot, a daily paper out of Norfolk, Virginia. But the two trainee seals convicted of the crime in question, Dustin Turner and Billy Joe Brown, now serving life sentences in Virginia, received most of their seal training in Coronado. Al and Delores Evans of Atlanta, Georgia, filed the suit against the U.S. government and four co-defendants. Filing date was June 5, exactly two years after their 21-year-old daughter Jennifer was abducted, raped, and murdered by the trainee seals in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The suit alleges that "but for the training imposed by the defendant U.S.A. upon the defendants Turner and Brown, [the two] would not have raped and/or murdered" their daughter.
Does the seal's intensive bud/s (Basic Underwater Demolition and seal training) course break down citizens and rebuild them as killers? The Navy insists it must "refrain from discussion of ongoing litigation." In its place, who better to ask than seals themselves? And what better place to find them than the annual seal graduation and reunion weekend in Coronado?
The place to be, it turns out, is Bay Books. seal books are hot. Thirty-three are in print, and six seal authors are signing today. But the line snaking out from the bookshop along the sidewalk of Coronado's Orange Avenue is for one man only. Everyone's waiting to see the author of Rogue Warrior and its four sequels, Richard Marcinko, who has turned his own derring-do into a multi-book contract with Simon & Schuster.
Inside, the black-eyed, black-bearded, red-faced, pock-skinned, Hawaiian-shirted Marcinko looks up. "What's your name?"
"George," says the guy who's just handed him a book.
"Big George. What do you do?"
"I'm a chiropractor. A Vietnam vet. Last time I saw you was at Waldenbooks at Oceanside."
"That's always a long line up there, Jesus!" says Marcinko.
"I wrote a book too - on chiropractic," says George.
"And he's been cracking up ever since," says Marcinko. They laugh. George goes off to join one of the shorter lines for the five other authors. Four of them are ex-seals like Marcinko. Across the way, Barry Enoch, who's written Teammates, is intoning. "As long as there's a man on the face of this earth with the voice of freedom on his lips," he says, "and he cries loud enough and long enough, sooner or later there's going to be an American fighting man standing beside him. And that's what the seals are all about."
But that wasn't what seals were all about at two in the morning of June 19, 1995, at a Virginia Beach dance club called the Bayou. That night, Jennifer Lea Evans, an attractive 21-year-old pre-med student on vacation from Atlanta, was drawn to the good-looking Navy seal. She told her girlfriends to go while she stayed on with Dustin Allen Turner. Evans finally left the Bayou around 1:30 a.m., hand in hand with Turner. Soon after, Turner's very drunk swim-buddy Billy Joe Brown followed the couple out to his Geo. Turner says when Jennifer told Billy Joe to stop pawing her hair from his place in the back seat, he put his arm around her neck and applied a "sleeper" hold. Jennifer Evans was never seen alive again.
Brown claimed Jennifer was dead when he got in the car and that Turner said, "I think I fucking killed her!" Brown told police Turner then asked him to help bury the body.
After an intensive nine-day search, police found Jennifer's sexually abused body buried in woods an hour's drive west of the resort town and Navy seal base. With the help of more than 100 tips, police arrested Turner, 20, and Brown, 23. They charged both with abduction, attempted rape, and murder. Both were convicted, though the attempted rape charge against Turner was dropped. Turner and Brown are appealing their convictions.
Now two years later, Al and Delores Evans want to make a point. The seals training program, their $5 million suit alleges, "produces violent side-effects." It turns the trainee into a "lethal weapon." It "instills in the individual a sense of invincibility as well as euphoria, implying that he can do no wrong."
Further, the suit alleges the government knew that Billy Joe Brown had shown evidence of "violent tendencies" before joining the Navy, after being expelled from the Coast Guard in September 1990 for assaulting his instructor. The Navy had "created not merely a lethal weapon, but a highly volatile lethal weapon which should not have been released in public."
"This [lawsuit] is pretty much an individual thing - Jennifer's dad and me trying to make our point in the best way we can," says Jennifer's mom Delores from Atlanta. "Our position is that neither of these two guys - and in particular Billy Joe Brown - should ever have been admitted to the seal program and taught how to be a trained killer. We feel like they should do better screening and psychological profiling of these guys before they let them into an elite force like that. As well as concurrent critiques: are they handling the pressure well? Can they distinguish right from wrong? Or the battlefield from civilian life?"
"We are trained to survive," says Barry Enoch, sitting at his signing table opposite Marcinko. "And if that means killing the enemy instead of yourself...you want to come home. But it's not that you were trained specifically only to kill."
Marcinko thinks Brown and Turner slipped through the system because of new laws banning fraternization between trainees and instructors. "If it was like in the old days, some petty officer would be out on the beach drinking with these guys. After work they used to figure out what made their nuts screw around. Now you can't do that. So we don't see the real people anymore. If we allowed them to be team members and be fellow teammates and spend off-time together, this never would have happened. There's too much oversight today. The military is a goddamn social experiment."