Jurors Back Clemency for 'Norfolk 4'

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

Eleven jurors say, based on what they know now, they would not have convicted two Norfolk-based sailors for the 1997 rape and murder of another sailor's wife. They also contend that two other sailors were wrongly imprisoned for the crime, which a fifth man has said he committed alone.

Letters and affidavits from the jurors, and from experts endorsing the sailors' claims of innocence, were submitted to Gov. Mark Warner (D) on Wednesday on behalf of the "Norfolk 4." The four sailors, who say they were coerced by police into making false confessions, are pressing Warner to pardon them before he leaves office next week.

But Warner almost certainly will not make a decision before his term ends, his spokeswoman said yesterday. The stack of documents presented by the sailors' legal team prompted the state Parole Board, which reviews such requests, to ask Warner for more time and resources to investigate, Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said. The governor probably will order the investigation and allow his successor, Timothy M. Kaine (D), to decide whether to grant clemency to Derek E. Tice, Eric C. Wilson, Joseph J. Dick Jr. and Danial J. Williams.

The family of the victim, Michelle Moore Bosko, 18, was surprised at the growing campaign to free the men. Carol Moore of Pittsburgh, the victim's mother, sat through three trials and numerous hearings, and she said the sailors' confessions were chilling and believable. The 11 jurors who submitted affidavits are from two trials.

"I don't understand these jurors," Moore said, noting that she had heard from other jurors after Tice's first trial and that they said they had wanted the death penalty as a sentencing option. Moore said she could not believe that four men would confess -- and that two would plead guilty and accept life sentences -- if they were innocent.

"If you're innocent, you're going to fight tooth and nail for everything," Moore said.

William Bosko discovered his wife's body when he returned home from sea July 8, 1997, hours after the killing. Investigators found DNA at the crime scene, but it did not match that of the suspects.

Over the ensuing months, Norfolk police, led by Detective Glen Ford, arrested seven sailors. Four of them -- Williams, Wilson, Tice and Dick -- provided confessions that often did not match up with the evidence, and they soon recanted.

Under the threat of the death penalty, Dick and Williams pleaded guilty. Then, Omar Ballard -- already in prison for a similar attack on a woman not far from the Bosko home -- wrote a threatening letter to a friend and admitted killing Bosko. Police checked his DNA, and it matched.

Ballard said he acted alone and provided precise details of the crime, right down to the type of knife used, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to rape and murder. He said he did not know any of the other seven men charged.

Norfolk prosecutors dismissed charges against the three men who hadn't confessed, but they proceeded on the theory that all eight men broke into Bosko's apartment and took turns raping and stabbing her. At trial in 1999, Wilson was acquitted of murder but convicted of rape. Tice was convicted of murder in 2000, a verdict overturned on appeal, and was convicted a second time in 2003.

In a letter to Warner, nine jurors from Wilson's trial say they "believe that clearing the names of these four sailors is the only right thing to do." The jurors said that they had problems with the evidence and that they became convinced that the men are innocent after learning of Ballard's statements and background, expert analysis of the crime scene and Ford's history of obtaining false confessions.

John Subasavage, the jury foreman in Wilson's trial, said in an interview that the evidence was incomplete and that the statements by Wilson and Dick "were the only thing that got [Wilson] convicted. If you throw that out, everything else goes out the window."

Two jurors from Tice's second trial submitted affidavits saying they, too, were convinced of the sailors' innocence. Joy Horvath Imel, one of the jurors, said she initially voted not guilty in the jury room, but hearing again Tice's tape-recorded confession changed her mind. In the meantime, she said, affidavits from experts have convinced her that he was not guilty.

"I feel validated," Imel said, "but I feel very badly I helped send this man to prison."

Wilson, sentenced to 8 1/2 years, was released last fall and already had a clemency petition pending. Dick, Williams and Tice are serving life sentences and are represented by lawyers from three large law firms who took the case free, at the request of the Innocence Project, a group that works to exonerate people they believe are wrongly convicted. The attorneys filed clemency petitions in mid-November with Warner, hoping he would rule after the election, but before he left office.

"We are disappointed that Gov. Warner is likely not going to rule on our pardon petitions," said Donald P. Salzman, the lawyer representing Williams. "But we're happy to hear that he is likely going to order an investigation."

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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