In Virginia, 4 Innocent Men Deserve Clemency.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

In 29 years in law enforcement, I have never come across a more bizarre case than that of the "Norfolk 4," four sailors who were convicted of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. Danial J. Williams, Joseph J. Dick Jr. and Derek E. Tice are serving life sentences in Virginia prisons for rape and murder. The fourth man, Eric C. Wilson, served eight years on a rape charge. All four men were convicted even though another man, Omar A. Ballard, says he committed the crime alone. My expertise in crime scene reconstruction and violent crime analysis and my review of the evidence in this case have convinced me that Ballard is telling the truth -- that he committed this terrible crime alone.

Williams, Dick, Tice and Wilson were convicted because they confessed after lengthy interrogations during which they say they were threatened with the death penalty. But their confessions do not match the physical evidence, and no other evidence has linked them to the crime. Their DNA proved that they were not the rapists or murderers. Yet all four, and three other innocent servicemen, were charged with capital murder and rape.

Twenty months after Moore-Bosko was murdered, Ballard wrote to a friend, confessing to the killing. DNA testing then identified Ballard as the perpetrator. At that point, the prosecution theory evolved into the claim that all seven servicemen and Ballard, whom none of the other accused knew, committed this crime.

If more than one attacker had been involved, the condition of Moore-Bosko's apartment after the murder would have been vastly different. The police probably would have found the apartment in disarray and the fingerprints, footprints or footwear impressions of several people on the bedroom's highly polished hardwood floor, with hairs, fibers and debris tracked in by the perpetrators. Instead, the apartment was neat, clean and nearly pristine. Police found papers jutting into a narrow hallway, delicately balanced items on furniture and a precariously placed full-length mirror within a foot of the victim's head. These details of the scene were wholly inconsistent with the prosecution theory that eight men pushed their way into the apartment, carried a struggling Moore-Bosko to the bedroom, and took turns assaulting and stabbing her.

Moore-Bosko's wounds and the evidence found in and around her body also indicate that only one person assaulted her. She did not have restraint injuries on her arms or legs, which probably would have been present if more than one person had held her down. She had no blunt-force trauma to her face, head or body -- injuries that also are common in gang rapes. The stab wounds in Moore-Bosko's chest varied little in location, direction, size or depth, indicating that she was stabbed by one person, not eight men taking turns. Most important, she had only Ballard's DNA under her fingernails, in her body and on a blanket found next to her.

These sailors are in prison because of their confessions. I am not an expert in false confessions, but about 25 percent of DNA exonerations have involved people who confessed to crimes that they did not commit. In the Norfolk 4 case, the initial confessions made by the four sailors conflict with the physical evidence, the behavioral evidence and the victim's wounds.

In contrast, Ballard's confession matches the crime scene evidence and the autopsy results. Ballard accurately described the knife used to stab Moore-Bosko, and he revealed a detail not publicized that only the killer could have known -- that he dumped the contents of Moore-Bosko's purse on a table and stole $35.

Finally, unlike Ballard, the four Navy men had no criminal history. Ballard, on the other hand, was in the middle of a three-week rampage of violent crime when he killed Moore-Bosko. Two weeks earlier he had attacked a woman with a baseball bat at Moore-Bosko's apartment complex; 10 days after murdering Moore-Bosko, he raped a teenage girl about a mile away.

I believe that Ballard, who already is in prison, is the lone rapist and killer in this case. I call on Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to right this wrong by granting clemency to the young sailors. Punishing the innocent does not serve the people of Virginia or our commonly held ideals of fairness and justice. Some mistakes are irreversible. This is not one of them.

-- Larry E. McCann

an expert on crime scene reconstruction, was a Virginia State Police investigator for 26 years.

larrymccann@aol.com


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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