Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has now formally pardoned the “Norfolk Four”, giving the men their lives back.
The notorious “Norfolk Four” men, Derek Tice, Danial Williams, Eric Wilson, Joseph Dick, were convicted in the case of the rape and murder of eighteen year old Michelle Moore-Bosk, the wife of a sailor, in 1997 while stationed at a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. They were initially sentenced to the death penalty for their crimes. The whole issue began with the arrest of seven sailors on capital murder charges, even though DNA at the scene never matched any of them. Three were let go after their alibis were confirmed and the remaining four were held responsible. The convicted men entered plea agreements against the death penalty and were ultimately sentenced to spend the remainder of their lives in prison. They served a number of years, and crime novelist John Grisham even picked up their story.
Eric Wilson was acquitted of murder but convicted of rape and spent more than eight years in prison before being released. Once he was set free, Wilson had hopes of legally adopting his stepson, but was unable to because of his conviction. He had been placed on the sex offender registry. So, he never considered himself entirely absolved. “It is truly a shame that they have had to fight so hard for so long to be fully pardoned,” said Donald Salzman, who represented Williams in the case.
Inmate Omar Ballard wrote a letter to a friend in 1999 confessing to ending Moore-Bosk’s life. His DNA matched the crime scene DNA. He said he acted alone, but police and prosecutors refused to believe the sailors were not involved, and continued to pursue the men, holding fast to their decision.
The Virginia attorney general’s office would eventually concede that it made an error in the case, saying it would end pursuit of prosecutions against Dick and Williams and dismissed all charges against Tice. The lead detective who coerced the men into falsely admitting to the rape, one after the other in succession, was Robert glen Ford. Later, charges were brought against Ford himself in an unrelated matter in which he was accused of accepting money from criminals in exchange for helping them get out on bond or having their sentences reduced. His ability to adequately and ethically interrogate suspected criminals was reviewed and his position was lost. Ford was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for this crime.
Last year, U.S. District Judge John Gibney of the Eastern District of Virginia held evidentiary hearings on the case because he recognized the continuing consequences of wrongful convictions. “It is time for the Commonwealth to free these men of the continuing shackles of their conviction,” Gibney wrote. “By any measure, the evidence shows the defendants’ innocence. … No sane human being could find them guilty.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has now formally pardoned the men. Eric Wilson, said McAuliffe has “given us our lives back with these full pardons.” He adds in a statement, “We have been haunted by these wrongful convictions for 20 years, which have created profound pain, hardships, and stress for each of us and our families. We now look forward to rebuilding our reputations and our lives.”