By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
RICHMOND, Nov. 10 -- A group of 30 retired FBI agents added their voices Monday to the campaign calling for full pardons for four Navy men convicted in the rape and murder of a woman in Norfolk in 1997.
The men have come to be known as "the Norfolk Four," and they have been the focus of a television documentary and a new book, "The Wrong Guys," published this month. All four confessed involvement in the rape and stabbing death of 19-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko inside her apartment, later recanted those confessions but were convicted anyway. Three are serving life sentences for murder, and the fourth was convicted of rape and has completed serving his 8 1/2 -year term.
The retired agents, members of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, sent Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) a letter in July seeking pardons for Joseph Dick, Derek Tice, Danial Williams and Eric Wilson. After they received no response, they decided to hold a news conference here Monday, led by Jay Cochran Jr., who headed the Virginia State Police criminal investigations bureau and was commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police after a 29-year FBI career.
"They stand falsely convicted and imprisoned for a crime they did not commit," Cochran said. "Our members are not bleeding hearts. We do not have an interest in the outcome. Our only interest is in serving the interests of justice."
In January, four former Virginia attorneys general also declared their belief that the Norfolk Four were innocent, but a Virginia Supreme Court ruling the same day reaffirmed Tice's convictions.
Delacey Skinner, a Kaine spokeswoman, said Monday that the governor is "committed to giving the case thorough and thoughtful consideration" but has made no decision and has not established a deadline for doing so. Lawyers for three of the Norfolk Four, working for free on behalf of the Virginia Innocence Project, first filed clemency petitions for Dick, Tice and Williams in 2005, when Mark Warner (D) was governor.
At one point, Norfolk authorities had charged seven men with raping and killing Moore-Bosko while her husband was at sea. But as the case was proceeding, an eighth man, Omar Ballard, wrote a letter to a friend admitting that he had committed the crime. His DNA matched that left at the scene, unlike that of the other seven men, and he pleaded guilty and said he acted alone. Forensic experts have said the crime scene is consistent with a single attacker.
The victim's family in Pittsburgh, where Moore-Bosko and her husband were from, still believes that a large group of sailors and Ballard killed her -- in part because of the confessions.
"Every time there's a holiday [Veterans Day is today], they upset my whole life," her father, John Moore, said Monday. "Let my poor baby rest."
At the news conference, Cochran said the Richmond chapter of the retired FBI agents was approached by the lawyers for the Norfolk Four with a request to examine the case. They were not paid. He said that they brought a skepticism to the case that is natural for a group of men with 700 collective years in law enforcement and that "the best interests of justice demanded that we speak out."
Cochran said the agents did not meet or speak with the Norfolk prosecutors or investigators who handled the case. Those officials have maintained that all five men convicted in the case were properly prosecuted.
The confessions given by the four convicted sailors conflicted with the physical evidence, Cochran and the other agents said.
Retired agent Thomas O'Donnell said the confessions were obtained under duress by Detective Glen Ford and that Ford was later "disciplined and demoted for having elicited false confessions" in another case. He said this case caused Norfolk police to begin videotaping interrogations. Ford has denied coercing any confessions.
Williams pleaded guilty to murder first and was not allowed to withdraw his plea after Ballard came forward. Dick pleaded guilty to murder and testified against Tice, whose confessions were played for the jury, which convicted him of murder. Wilson was convicted only of rape. Charges were dismissed against three other sailors.
The parents of the three men still imprisoned attended the news conference. All said their sons still hold out hope of being cleared of the murder.