“Norfolk Four” Pardoned 20 Years After False Confessions
A still from FRONTLINE's "The Confessions," which centers around the so-called Norfolk Four. From left to right, Eric Wilson, Joe Dick Jr., Derek Tice, and Danial Williams.
The “Norfolk Four,” four U.S. Navy sailors who were wrongly convicted for the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko, were fully pardoned on Tuesday by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The pardon brings to a close a 20-year legal battle that brought national attention to the issue of false confessions. The four men were all arrested within a year of 18-year-old Moore-Bosko’s murder, sentenced and kept in prison, despite DNA evidence linking another man to the crime. Danial Williams, Joe Dick Jr., Eric Wilson and Derek Tice have maintained for years that they falsely confessed to the crime following hours of intimidating police interrogations.
Williams was the first of the four to be arrested, after a friend of the victim indicated to police that they should take a closer look at him. He was charged with rape and murder less than 24 hours after Moore-Bosko’s body was found. He confessed to the crimes after more than 11 hours of questioning.
“It was just unimaginable to myself at that point, but I had confessed,” Williams told FRONTLINE in the 2010 investigation of the case, The Confessions. A detective named Robert Glenn Ford interrogated Williams, and eventually, the other three men. Ford was later found guilty of two counts of extortion and one count of lying to the FBI in separate cases, and sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison.
“Ford is a very intimidating person,” Williams said in The Confessions. “He’s not a big person, but he’s like a bulldog. Once he gets his teeth into you, he doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants from you.”
Despite lacking any evidence connecting Williams to the crime, the Norfolk police developed a theory that he was one of several men involved. Soon Dick, Wilson and Tice would also be arrested and interrogated, resulting in more confessions they said were coerced under intense pressure.
Tice said Ford kept “leaning towards me, yelling at me, calling me a liar, telling me I was going to die.” He asked for a lawyer, but never got to talk to one in the 11 hours before he confessed. When asked why he would confess to a crime he had no part in, Tice recalled how Ford kept telling him he was going to die for lying.
“After the nine hours, my thinking was my only options are to tell him a lie, tell him what he wants to hear and live, or keep telling the truth and die.”
(Watch the men discuss their interrogations in the below clip from The Confessions, which was written, produced and directed by Ofra Bikel).
In 1999, a prison inmate named Omar Ballard admitted in a letter to a friend that he committed the crime. His DNA matched evidence found at the crime scene, and the next year, he pleaded guilty to the rape and murder and admitted to acting alone.
Prosecutors, however, would continue to press their case. Wilson and Tice went to trial and jurors found them guilty based on their confessions. Williams and Dick took pleas that would have them serving life sentences.
Wilson served his entire sentence. Dick Jr., Tice and Williams were granted conditional pardons in 2009 by former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine — they would be released from prison, but because they were not exonerated of the crimes, they were nonetheless required to register as sex offenders.
Tice’s conviction was erased in 2009, while Williams and Dick had theirs vacated by a federal judge in October. According to The New York Times, the men’s lawyers argued that absolute pardons had more power than court rulings and would help the four men move on with their lives.
“These pardons close the final chapter on a grave injustice that has plagued these 4 men for nearly 20 years,” McAuliffe’s office said in a statement.
Wilson thanked McAuliffe for the pardons on behalf of all four men. “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,” Wilson said, according to a local CBS affiliate. “We now look forward to rebuilding our reputations and our lives.”