Make the Call

Thursday, June 21, 2007

VIRGINIA'S SUPREME Court agreed this month to consider the case of Derek E. Tice, a sailor whose life sentence was thrown out by a Norfolk judge last year. It is as good a time as any to remind Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to consider what appears to be a disturbing distortion of justice that has been allowed to stand for years.

Mr. Tice and three other sailors convicted in the case of Michelle Moore-Bosko, who was raped and murdered in 1997, have insisted on their innocence, repudiating confessions they say they made under heavy pressure and threats from Virginia authorities. One of the men, who was convicted only of rape, has already been released. Then last fall, Circuit Judge Everett A. Martin Jr. threw out Mr.

Tice's conviction. The judge noted that the state's interrogators were unduly aggressive, pressing Mr. Tice even after he invoked his right to remain silent. The state attorney general appealed, dragging the case into the state's highest court. But while the lawyers wrangle about Mr. Tice's case, the other two sailors convicted, who for technical reasons do not have recourse to the courts, continue to sit in prison, their appeals for clemency to Mr. Kaine unanswered for more than a year and a half.

The evidence in the case of the so-called Norfolk 4 strongly favors the sailors. Apart from the confessions, there is scant evidence linking the men to the crime. Evidence at the crime scene indicated a single assailant. And DNA at the scene implicated another man, Omar Ballard. Mr. Ballard admitted in correspondence with a friend, "Guess who did that Me. HA HA," and in an affidavit he stated: "None of the other individuals who were charged with raping or killing Michelle were there or involved in any way."

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaine faces a tough choice. The men were duly convicted, and governors should not overturn such verdicts without good reason. A spokesman for Mr. Kaine says that the governor wants to wait until scheduled legal proceedings are completed before acting, and he indicated that new evidence might emerge. But Mr. Tice's lawyer does not expect any significant new evidence to enter the record. Besides, the hearings will affect only one of the Norfolk 4, and the other three have waited long enough. Unless Mr. Kaine expects damning new evidence, he should make a decision.

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