Norfolk Four Finally Get Their Day in Court, Settlement Reached
The city of Norfolk has reached a settlement agreement with the infamous “Norfolk Four,” agreeing to pay $4.9 million to four former sailors who were wrongly convicted of a woman’s rape and murder based on intimidating police interrogations. The state of Virginia also has agreed to pay $3.5 million. The fateful day marked the close of a decades-long case in which the men’s innocence claims were backed by many former FBI agents, prosecutors, and even famed crime novelist John Grisham.
“These guys can now put all this behind them and try to recoup their lives,” said Tony Troy, an attorney for one of the sailors.
Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice were pardoned by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2017 of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. Moore-Bosko’s husband discovered his wife’s body after she had been stabbed and strangled in their apartment. He had just returned that day from a week at sea.
Williams, who lived in the same building, was almost immediately identified as a suspect after a neighbor told police he had taken a liking to the victim. Williams admitted to her rape and murder, but he would later recant this admission, stating like the others, that they were forced to confess by then-members of the police force.
DNA evidence matched only Omar Ballard, the fifth man convicted in the case. Ballard’s account was also the only one containing information matching the crime scene. He pleaded guilty in 2000, acknowledging he was solely responsible, and is serving a life sentence in prison.
“In our system, especially cases involving eyewitness identification, there’s going to be human error. Thankfully, DNA has helped correct honest mistakes,” Richard Cullen, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and a former Virginia attorney general, said. “But this was not an honest mistake. This was intentional.” He added, “It’s the worst miscarriage of justice I’ve experienced in my 40 years as a lawyer.”
The Norfolk Four have said they were threatened with the death penalty and repeatedly called liars, which lead them to submit false confessions. One of the men said a detective forced him into a corner and showed him a picture of Moore-Bosko’s bloody body. The confessions conflicted with one another. The detective who questioned them, Robert Glenn Ford, was convicted in 2011 of extortion and lying to the FBI in unrelated cases.
The federal judge who dismissed the men’s convictions said “no sane human being” could find them guilty, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved legislation earlier in 2018 that gives the men $3.5 million in state funds contingent on them resolving claims against the city. Senator Scott Surovell, a sponsor of the legislation, said they’d finally gotten their day in court and he pleased that the city agreed to settle.
“Justice was long overdue for these four, what happened to them was outrageous and undermines faith in our criminal justice system,” he said. “Hopefully this settlement will help ensure this never happens again.”
Wilson, who was wrongly convicted of rape, said it took an attorney and $10,000 to persuade a board to grant him an electrician’s license and that he still could not work on certain properties, such as schools, and was barred from city parks. He also said his son was removed from Cub Scouts because other parents didn’t want Wilson around. The false convictions certainly took a toll on the four men, including lengthy prison terms and years living as registered sex offenders.
Steve Northup, an attorney for Wilson, called the city’s payout “generous” and added that the decision that day “doesn’t restore the twenty years of his life that Eric lost…but nevertheless it helps, and we’re pleased, and our clients are pleased with the compensation we were able to secure for them.”