The Confessions

Nov. 9, 2010

Ofra Bikel

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: Inside this police station, inside an interrogation room --

-- I show you Norfolk Police photo 152 --

ANNOUNCER: -- four U.S. Navy sailors were relentlessly questioned about a brutal crime --

-- that you were going to rape, Michelle Bosko. Is that true?

ANNOUNCER: -- over and over --

-- You'll recall what happened to the knife.

ANNOUNCER: -- hour after hour.

-- I show you another picture and ask if you can identify this female.

-- Dan grabbed her around the mouth so she couldn't scream.

ANNOUNCER: One by one, eventually, they all confessed.

-- Danial was about to start raping her.

-- Dan was the first to have intercourse with her. I was the second. Derek was third.

-- I noticed that Dan and Joe were getting really rough.

-- grabbed the knife out of the kitchen.

-- Do you remember your exact words at that point?

-- "Just go ahead and stab the bitch."

ANNOUNCER: Based on these confessions, the jury found them guilty.

-- Is this the truth that you're telling us now?

-- Yes, it is.

ANNOUNCER: But were they telling the truth? Tonight on FRONTLINE, The Confessions.

NARRATOR: July 1997, the naval station in Norfolk Virginia. A sailor, William Bosko, had just returned from sea. Eager to see his new wife, he rushed home to this apartment complex. What he found inside horrified him. He ran next door to his neighbor, Danial Williams.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: William Bosko came over, beating on my door, yelling frantically that his wife was dead. And I grabbed my phone, called 911 and went to see what— how I could help.

NARRATOR: The police arrived minutes later. There was no forced entry. The apartment was clean and tidy except for the bedroom, where Michelle Moore-Bosko had been brutally raped and murdered. To the police, it looked like a single assailant. Maureen Evans was the lead detective.

DON SALZMAN, Danial Williams's Attorney: Within an hour and a half of discovering the body, Maureen Evans, asked the victim's friend, Tamika Taylor, "What's your hunch? What does your gut tell you about who might have committed this crime?"

NARRATOR: Tamika Taylor, a young woman who lived in the complex, had only known Michelle for a month. She pointed to the next-door neighbor.

DON SALZMAN: Tamika Taylor told Detective Evans that they should look at Danial Williams because it appeared that he seemed interested in the victim.

NARRATOR: At the time of the murder, Danial Williams was 25, a machinist's mate in the Navy. He had been married for just 11 days. He and his wife, Nicole, had thought they were expecting a child when they found out to their dismay that she was suffering from ovarian cancer. His parents were visiting them from Michigan.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: My parents and Nicole had gone to dinner, expecting me to join them shortly.

RHEA WILLIAMS: When we were leaving to go to dinner, they asked him to come down and to help sort out some of the information, to give them a few more answers. So we took separate cars, and he said that he would be joining us very shortly. Shortly turned into two hours, and then three. And then 13 years.

NARRATOR: Williams left the apartment and drove himself to the police station.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: I expected to just answer some questions. Why was I the one to call 911 and not her husband? It was a half hour to 45 minutes into the questioning is when they started accusing me of raping and killing Michelle Bosko.

NARRATOR: They wanted him to take a polygraph test. He agreed.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: They told me that I had failed the polygraph test and that I needed to start telling the truth about what I did.

NARRATOR: In fact, Danial passed the test.

DON SALZMAN: But the police didn't tell him that they passed the test, the police told him that he failed the lie detector test. And that really began an intense interrogation of Danial that lasted for over nine hours.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: Being in a small room, and you have a person sitting over across the table from you that's getting in your face, yelling at you, calling you a liar, poking you in the chest with their finger, and then turns around and says, "Well, I can help you if you tell me the truth. Tell me what happened." And it went on and on and on throughout the night, with them calling me a liar, telling me I that needed to tell the truth. And I kept telling them, "I am telling you the truth. I didn't do it."

Prof. RICHARD LEO, Co-Author, The Wrong Guys: The goal of an interrogation is to get a confession. That's the single overriding goal. Prior to an interrogation, police have made up their mind that the person is guilty. You don't interrogate somebody unless you first believe they're guilty.

DON SALZMAN: Maureen Evans interrogated Danial for over eight hours, but she was not able to get Danial to confess. And eventually, she gave way to another detective, Detective Ford, and he was a detective who had a reputation for getting people to confess.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: Ford is a very intimidating person. 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. And that's what he did. He just kept relentlessly going at me throughout the night to get me to confess. And he got what he wanted. He got me to confess, even though it was a false confession.

RICHARD LEO: Some people have very strong personalities, and they will never break, and other people have very weak personalities. And most of us are somewhere in between. But what people who have never been interrogated have to understand is that interrogation can be very intense, a lot of psychological pressure, sometimes in a small space for a long period of time. People break sometimes in response to that pressure. And they think the only way to save themselves is to put an end to that interrogation.

JAY SALPETER, Former NYPD Detective: At the end of the day, confessions can go for over 24 hours. You will have sleep deprivation. Your— your subject will be hungry, but probably doesn't even want to eat, you know? So you are taking him into another situation. So many people say, "Well, how could you confess to a crime that you never did?" Well, I'll tell you something. Put them in a room with me. I could do it.

You know how I'm going to be asking you? Are you deaf? You're not deaf, right?


JAY SALPETER: Well talk louder. I'm asking you a question. Are you deaf?


JAY SALPETER: OK. Now you want to go to jail? You want to get the death penalty, or you want me to help you out?

OFRA BIKEL: Of course I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to get the death penalty.

JAY SALPETER: So? Then tell me what the hell happened there, and I'll help you out. But don't look at me like that. We're sitting here 10 [expletive deleted] hours. How much longer are we going to do this?

OFRA BIKEL: I don't know.

JAY SALPETER: You don't know? Well, it's up to you. Don't tell me you don't know. You failed the polygraph, so you're not going to tell me you didn't do it. We're going to go here all night. You're not leaving this room.

[ The psychology of false confessions]

NARRATOR: Danial Williams confessed after 11 hours of interrogation.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: I got her in the back room, and I forced her to have intercourse with me. She resisted, and I hit her a couple of times with my hand. I grabbed a flat, hard shoe and I struck her with it. And then I got up and left.

DON SALZMAN: The problem was that the confession that Danial gave was completely inconsistent with the facts of the crime.

GREGG McCRARY, Former FBI Detective: The first thing they should have done is understood the crime that they were investigating. They didn't even know the results of the autopsy. For example, Williams said he'd beaten her with a shoe, denied choking her, denied using any sort of a weapon, when in fact, she was not beaten and she was choked and there was a weapon used, she was stabbed.

NARRATOR: Overnight, Detective Evans received the autopsy report. Michelle was not hit with a shoe or anything else. She was stabbed and strangled. The detective rushed back to Danial to question him some more.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: She started questioning me more about it. And she had at one point demonstrated on herself on where Michelle was stabbed at in her chest.

NARRATOR: Danial got the message and amended his confession.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: I started looking around for something, and I saw a knife. I picked it up and I stabbed her about three times.

NARRATOR: Detective Evans then asked Danial what he did next.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: I got up. I dropped the weapon and I went out.

GREGG McCRARY: They came back and had him readjust. And "Oh, yeah, I think I might have touched her throat." And he couldn't describe the knife, but he might have stabbed her, and these sorts of things. And they were satisfied. No concern about multiple offenders. They were convinced they'd solved the crime.

NARRATOR: Danial was charged with rape and murder less than 24 hours after the body was discovered.

RHEA WILLIAMS: When Danial called us to tell us that he was arrested, he just kept saying he didn't do it. And they wouldn't believe him and he wanted to come home to be with Nicole and— but they wouldn't let him come home.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: Probably really sank in after that that, you know, I messed up. I should have stood my ground.

NARRATOR: All during the interrogation, Danial Williams never used his right to ask for a lawyer.

PETER BROOKS, Princeton University, Author, Troubling Confessions: I think it's a prejudice most of us have, that if you're innocent, you don't need to call for a lawyer because innocence is its own defense. Innocence can defend itself. And if you call for a lawyer, it looks a little bit sleazy. It looks as if you've got something to hide and you need a professional of the law to help you hide it. The trouble with that is that innocence can't defend itself against a really clever interrogation.

JAY SALPETER: Why in the world would you want an attorney now? We're sitting here 10 hours. You're almost there. You get an attorney, then I'm going to have to lock you up for the capital murder. So why— why did you put in 10 hours? Let's finish it up, then we'll get you your attorney.

NARRATOR: By the time Danial realized what he had done, it was too late.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: It was just unimaginable to myself at that point, but I had confessed. And I knew the confession wasn't true, but it was a confession.

DON SALZMAN: At that point, the police closed their investigation. They had arrested the person they thought had committed the crime and they didn't investigate the case anymore. They thought they had arrested the one person who had committed this crime.

NARRATOR: The case was closed, and weeks went by. Detective Maureen Evans left the force for another job. Detective Ford was dealing with other cases. Then four months later, startling news. The results of Danial's DNA were back, and they did not match the semen left at the crime scene.

GREGG McCRARY: Now they had a choice to make. Either Williams was not guilty of this, was not involved in the crime scene, or he had to be part of some sort of weird conspiracy.

RICHARD LEO: Instead of objectively looking at the case and his involvement and figuring out, "What does the DNA tell us," they assumed he still had to have been involved, but there had to have been somebody else.

NARRATOR: They kept the DNA results secret and went looking for Danial's accomplice. They picked his roommate, a fellow sailor on the USS Saipan. His name was Joe Dick, Jr.

JOE DICK, Jr: When I heard he confessed, it's just something that was hard to believe. It's, like, I know he couldn't have done it because he had just married Nicole and he loved Nicole, so— basically, a shock to me and the guys that he worked with.

NARRATOR: Family members say he was a shy and sensitive kid. Raised in a working class neighborhood in Baltimore, protected by loving parents, Joe Dick was socially awkward. He had struggled both in school and in the Navy. He had always been a loner.

RICHARD LEO: Joe Dick is one of the most interesting people involved in this case and I think key to understanding this case. His confession stands out because he came to believe that he must have been involved in this crime.

JOE DICK, Jr.: To this day, I still blame myself. It's an experience that will never leave me. There are some things that I won't talk about— not because I'm ashamed of it but because I just don't want to talk about it.

NARRATOR: He would become the most important witness in the case. Six months after the murder, naval security turned Joe over to the Norfolk police. Detective Glenn Ford was waiting for him.

JOE DICK, Jr.: They started asking me where I was when this happened, and I told them that I was on the ship. Ford's saying I'm lying. He's starting to get ticked off. He's raising his voice. He keeps coming back with, "We know you were there. We can prove you were there. You can get the death penalty." I kept denying it. We went and did a polygraph. He comes back with the results and he says I'm still lying, that I failed the polygraph.

NARRATOR: The results of this polygraph test have never been released.

JOE DICK, Jr.: Eventually, I just wanted to tell him anything to get him off my back, to shut up— and to shut him up. I was tired, emotionally, mentally worn down.

NARRATOR: Then Ford showed Joe a photograph of the dead victim.

JOE DICK, Jr.: She was laying there and she had on this black T-shirt. I just looked at it.

NARRATOR: The photograph appears to have traumatized Joe. It also fed him information that only the perpetrator would have known. After hours of interrogation, he finally told them, he said, what they wanted to hear.

JOE DICK, Jr.: I told him that I was there and that Danny was there. He would ask, "Are you sure that it happened in the living room and not the bedroom? Didn't it happen like this, or didn't it happen like that," just to get the story he wants.

NARRATOR: Then for a minute, he had hope.

JOE DICK, Jr.: When I'm in the interrogation room, Ford said, "We know that you were there and we can prove it. All we need is some DNA." I'm, like, "Sure. Go ahead. Take it," because I knew for a fact that DNA wouldn't be there. And I gave them pubic hair samples, two vials of blood, and samples of hair from the top of my head, anything they wanted. And this was the only thing I was happy about all day, knowing that, "Yeah, I've got them. Ain't going to be there. I'm going to be walking out that front door. They going to have to drop them charges." Joke was on me. They didn't drop them. They kept— they kept them charges in place and put me in prison.

NARRATOR: Once again, they would arrest a suspect confident that the DNA would eventually prove them right.

GREGG McCRARY: In the mind of the investigator and the prosecutor, they're the good guys. They would not put an innocent person in jail. They would not prosecute an innocent person. And because they put these people in jail, they just have to believe that they're guilty. It's this sort of circular— it's self-validating sort of mentality that goes on that just ignores all of the evidence.

NARRATOR: Pat and Joe Dick, Sr., Joe's parents, live in Maryland. She's a court stenographer and he's a retired military man.

PAT DICK: I came in from work one day and the phone was ringing. I picked it up, it was the captain of the USS Saipan, and he told me that my son had been arrested. And I told him, I says, "Joseph Dick, Jr.?" I says, "Do you have the right child? This is not— my son wouldn't be arrested for something like that." And he said, "No," he said, it was definitely, you know, my son. There was no mistake.

JOE DICK, Sr.: That evening, Joe called us at home and he said to me, "I didn't do it. I didn't do it. I didn't do it." And I told Joe, I said, "Well," you know, "We understand. Believe me, I know that you couldn't have ever been party to something like this." And I said, "Why are you still there?" He said, "Well, I just told them what they wanted to hear." And that's when the terror set in. And I said, "You didn't sign anything did you?" "Well, yeah, I signed a confession." And I said, "We'll be down first thing in the morning."

NARRATOR: They drove to Norfolk. At the jail, a man handed them the business card of a lawyer named Michael Fasanaro. Fasanaro, a veteran Navy lawyer, said he was willing to represent their son for $22,000, a bargain for a complex death penalty trial. They left to take a mortgage out on their home, leaving their son's case in Fasanaro's hands.

JOE DICK, Jr.: The attorney felt that I was guilty from day one.

MIKE FASANARO, Joe Dick's Attorney: I certainly thought he was guilty. The client told me he was guilty. He had confessed to the police and then he told me he was involved.

JOE DICK, Jr.: It's like he gave up from the first day and didn't even try to give me an adequate defense.

MIKE FASANARO: Joe was facing the death penalty. The commonwealth approached me and asked me whether or not he might be interested in testifying on behalf of the commonwealth. In return, they would take the death penalty off the case, off the table. I approached Mr. Dick about it. I approached his parents about it. Based upon the evidence, based upon the personality of the client that I had, I considered that if we went to trial, the death penalty was a legitimate possibility.

NARRATOR: Whatever he thought, Fasanaro's biggest problem was Joe Dick's confession, a problem shared by Danial Williams's court-appointed lawyer, Danny Shipley.

DANNY SHIPLEY, Danial Williams's Attorney: No one in Virginia believes that you confess to a murder you didn't commit. No one believes it. And that's true of judges, true of lawyers. No one believes it. And they'll tell you again and again, "I don't believe someone confesses to a murder they didn't commit." And that's what I'm looking at.

And to be quite frank with you, when you approach a case, how are we going to handle this case? Are we going to try to make a deal, or are we going to go to court and try the case?" Death changes everything. Death— all your decisions that you make are guided by the fact that if you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong call, your client's dead.

OFRA BIKEL: In Virginia.

DANNY SHIPLEY: In Virginia, the client's dead, OK? We are very, very good at killing people, executing people. We're in the top two or three every year.

NARRATOR: Any hope Joe had that his DNA would save him was dashed.

JOE DICK, Jr.: My attorney came to me one day, he told me my DNA didn't match. And I knew that it wasn't going to match. I knew that it wasn't there. And I'm figuring, "OK, I gave them my DNA. Even though I confessed, they got to kick me loose because that proves right there I didn't do this." But that's not their thinking. They don't care. My attorney told me that there had to be somebody else, and if I cooperate, he can get me a better plea bargain.

MIKE FASANARO: It was in his best interests to try and cooperate the best he could to take the death penalty off the case because I was convinced with the brutality of this murder, a jury might very well have given the death penalty.

JOE DICK, Sr.: One day, Mr. Fasanaro called here and said, "I've got some bad news for you. I hate to tell you, but your son is guilty. He was involved in every bit of this crime from start to finish." And I just— I just stood there with my mouth open because up to that point, we believed, always believed our son was innocent, never had any doubt. But now we've got the guy that we're paying to defend him telling us we got a problem. You know, he's telling us he's guilty, he was there for every aspect of the crime, he could get the death penalty, we need to plea bargain, and my job now is to save his life.

PAT DICK: Because he said everything hinged on the confession, and there was absolutely no way that they could get past the confession.

NARRATOR: He advised them to urge Joe to tell the truth and name others who were involved.

PAT DICK: He says, "Urge upon him the importance of, you know, cooperate and just tell the truth." So of course, you know, Joe happens to call up and we're talking to him, and I try and impress upon him, you know, "Mr. Fasanaro says you have to tell the truth, Joe. It's really important that you tell the truth, you know? And it'll help you maybe get a better deal, or you know, get the death penalty off," or something like that. And you know, so, like, we were— we had become part of the problem.

JOE DICK, Jr.: I went ahead and listened to her because coming from Mom, it made sense. Coming from my attorney, it just sounded like sheer lunacy. Why would I take a plea bargain if I know I'm innocent?

NARRATOR: Urged by his lawyer and his parents, Joe tried hard to protect his plea by giving the prosecution what he thought they wanted to hear.

OFRA BIKEL: You just made it up?

JOE DICK, Jr.: I just made it up, just telling them what they wanted to hear. When the truth of the matter is that everything I told them is their version of the facts, which is a straight-up lie.

NARRATOR: One of Joe's statements involved a young Navy man, a friend of the wife of Danial Williams named Eric Wilson.

ERIC WILSON: Well, I got involved in the case because of Joseph Dick. He had for reasons of his own decided to tell the police officers that I was involved. And as soon as I got back off my Mediterranean cruise, I was arrested and brought in.

OFRA BIKEL: Do you know why he did it?

ERIC WILSON: No. No, I don't know why he did it.

OFRA BIKEL: Were you friends?

ERIC WILSON: I knew him. I knew Joseph. I wouldn't really call us friends, but I did know him.

NARRATOR: And that was enough for the police to arrest Eric.

OFRA BIKEL: How many statements did you make, do you remember?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Three or four.

OFRA BIKEL: How about seven?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Seven? I think it was a total of seven statements.

OFRA BIKEL: How many were true?

JOE DICK, Jr.: None of the statements that were made were true.

OFRA BIKEL: He was making up stuff.

MIKE FASANARO, Joe Dick's Attorney: I couldn't tell you what was made up because I wasn't there. I had to rely on my client.

NARRATOR: Fasanaro gave Joe mixed signals. Joe could tell all the stories he wanted, but he had to tell the truth.

MIKE FASANARO: I didn't recommend against his continuing on and cooperating with the authorities. I thought it was in his best interest.

OFRA BIKEL: To continue?

MIKE FASANARO: To cooperate. Of course.

OFRA BIKEL: Even though he kept changing the stories?

MIKE FASANARO: Well, if they were willing to accept his changes of the stories and it was going to benefit Mr. Dick, then by all means, continue, but try and tell the truth.

NARRATOR: Often, the attorney didn't accompany Joe to his sessions with Ford or the prosecution.

MIKE FASANARO: I didn't need to be there. Joe was already committed. And again, my position in these things is that my presence could hinder Joe more than help him. It's up to him. Once the decision is made that you're going to cooperate, Mr. Dick, then you, Mr. Dick, have got to continue to sell yourself. If I'm there and you're looking for me— to me to give you answers with a nod of my head or shake of my head or something, that destroys everything. You've agreed this is what you want to do, go do it.

NARRATOR: After months in jail, depressed and confused, Joe began to believe the police theories.

JOE DICK, Jr.: After giving the detectives the names that they wanted, it became a natural thought to me that I did this.

NARRATOR: Joe's growing belief in his guilt would prove crucial for the case. Then two months after his arrest, Eric Wilson's DNA came back negative. So Detective Ford went back to Joe to ask for new names. As usual, Joe complied. He gave a new statement in which he claimed that there were three other men involved, two whose names he didn't know, and one who he named George Clark.

OFRA BIKEL: Did you know George Clark?

JOE DICK, Jr.: No, I didn't know George Clark, but I knew Derek, and that's who it turned out to be.

NARRATOR: The police couldn't find a George Clark, but the description and resulting police sketch looked somewhat like Derek Tice.

DEREK TICE: A friend of ours said, "Well, there's a guy named Derek that was on the George Washington in the Navy." So they got a cruise book from the George Washington, showed it to Joe. He flipped through it, saw me, said, "Yeah, that's the guy."

NARRATOR: Derek was another friend of Danial. He was arrested in Florida and taken to Norfolk, Virginia, for questioning.

DEREK TICE: The only thing that I knew of that I'd ever done in Virginia that was breaking the law was a speeding ticket. You know, I'll go up to Virginia and get it straightened out, pay the ticket and be back home in a week.

OFRA BIKEL: Didn't come out that way?

DEREK TICE: No. It was 11 years, 1 month and 18 days later I walked out of prison, so didn't happen the way I wanted it to.

NARRATOR: Derek remembers learning of the charges against him.

DEREK TICE: My legs just turned to jelly. I couldn't think. I didn't know where I was. It was, you know, getting hit upside the head with a two-by-four. It was about like that. I was dazed and confused.

NARRATOR: He, too, was taken to the interrogation room to face Glenn Ford.

DEREK TICE: Ford— he postured like a bulldog, leaning towards me, yelling at me, calling me a liar, telling me I was going to die. And this went on for eight hours. I'd keep telling him I didn't know anything about the crime. I wasn't there. But he had in his mind what he thought was the truth, and until I said what he wanted me to say, I wasn't getting out of that room.

[ Police interrogation techniques]

NARRATOR: A few hours into the interrogation, Derek, like the others, was given a polygraph test, the results of which — again — have never been released. After the test, Derek told the investigator that he had decided to stop talking unless he could see a lawyer.

DEREK TICE: I was taken back to the interrogation room, and within 13 minutes, in walked Detective Ford and Wray. And he had the cat that ate the canary smile on his face and said, "Told you you were guilty. Told you you failed," and started right back in on the interrogation.

OFRA BIKEL: What happened to the lawyer?

DEREK TICE: There was no lawyer, no nothing. And at that moment when he came back in and started the interrogation, my mind, because of him coming in like that, just froze. It was, like, in total shock. And so he started the interrogation up again, and eventually, I broke and gave him what he wanted to hear.

NARRATOR: After 11 hours, he signed a confession. Allan Zaleski was Derek's court-appointed lawyer. He has practiced criminal law for 40 years.

OFRA BIKEL: How did he explain his confession?

ALLAN ZALESKI, Derek Tice's Attorney: He said that it was eight hours of constant talk, constant telling him he's lying, telling him that he should tell the truth, that kind of business. It's not very satisfactory to me. I don't— I don't— it's hard to accept that that is a reasonable explanation. You might ask him why he did, why did he sign a statement saying he committed these— these— murdered a woman, raped a woman, stabbed her and everything. Why would you do that if you didn't do it?

DEREK TICE: At least every, I'd say, 30 seconds Ford was saying, "You keep saying you weren't there, you keep lying to us, you're going to die. You're going to get the needle. How does it feel to die?" And after the nine hours, my thinking was my only options are tell him a lie, tell him what he wants to hear and live, or keep telling the truth and die.

RICHARD LEO, Co-Author, The Wrong Guys: They were threatened. They were all threatened with the death penalty. They were told they would receive the death penalty if they didn't confess, and the only way to avoid the death penalty was if they stopped denying and started admitting to what the interrogators believed they had done.

[ Timeline of this story]

Prof. PETER BROOKS, Author, Troubling Confessions: If you go back in history to the Inquisition for instance, which had very elaborate protocols of torture— when you can torture— if someone made a confession under torture, he'd have to repeat it without torture 24 hours later. On the other hand, if he recanted it, then you'd torture him again. But one of the stages in applying torture was known as "showing the instruments." And lots of the victims confessed just at seeing the instruments that would be used on them. I think I would have. And I think in the case of the Norfolk Four, the way the detective used the death penalty was very much like showing the instruments.

NARRATOR: To help us understand what it was like to be confronted by Ford and the threat of death, Derek said he'd try to show what the interrogation was like.

DEREK TICE: All right, Derek, let's start again. What happened that night?

OFRA BIKEL: I was at home, and a friend of me called me and told me to watch television.

DEREK TICE: Ah, no. Quit. Right there. You're lying, Derek.


DEREK TICE: No, you were there. You committed this crime, Derek. What you did was sickening. I've lived this case since its beginning. It's been my life.


DEREK TICE: I know there was a party at Dan's house and you went. Nicole got a headache and she went to bed! Y'all started talking about girls, decided to go over to Michelle's apartment. Somebody knocked on the door. Somebody covered the peephole with their thumb. Y'all went in and you raped and killed this girl. I know you did it!

OFRA BIKEL: I'm telling you the truth.

DEREK TICE: No, you're not telling me the truth, Derek. You're just a [expletive deleted] liar, and you're going to die. You deserve to die!

I'm sorry— I— I— that's it. I— I can't do any more. I'm sorry. I hope that was enough. I can't.

ERIC WILSON: It's a very difficult thing to explain to someone who hasn't been there. I felt caged. And I was scared and I didn't know what to do.

DEREK TICE: Eight and a half hours he was like that, just never calming down, never—

DANIAL WILLIAMS: He physically, emotionally wore me down to the point where I just couldn't go anymore, and I just told him what he wanted him to hear.

ERIC WILSON: My fear was not of what would happen next, it was of Ford. He does not appear that imposing, but in the interrogation room, it's different. It's just different. They told me what they wanted to hear and I repeated it back to them. Everything I said was scripted by Ford. All the details I gave about the apartment were because of photos he showed me of the crime scene. I was so mentally and emotionally drained by them that I didn't care what the truth was. I was willing to tell them whatever they wanted to hear just to make them stop.

NARRATOR: The confession, Derek said, was carefully crafted.

DEREK TICE: It was an hour and a half to two hours of rehearsal, of going over the statement over and over and over again, adding a piece here, adding a piece there, until it was a big enough story that Ford liked, and he was, like, "OK." Then once we got that, we had to go back over it three more times, just to make sure that I had all the parts and pieces together. And then he goes, "OK, now we're going to record it."

[police audiotape] When the rest of us got inside, we disrobed her, held her down. I had one leg. Eric had the other leg.

It was just so not me. It was a robot.

[police audiotape] Dan was the first to have intercourse with her. I was the second. Eric was third.

What I said, I didn't know until I got a copy of it and read it. I couldn't remember what I had said.

[police audiotape] Dan started to strangle her to keep her from talking. So I made a statement that, "Just get a knife and stab her." Then Dan stabbed her, I stabbed her, then Eric stabbed her, Joe stabbed her.

NARRATOR: There was no record of what led to the confession.

JAMES BROCCOLETTI, Derek Tice's Trial Attorney: Police didn't turn the tape on until they were ready to have the full confession. In other words, we were not provided with, because there was no evidence of, no record of what had occurred for the 10, 12, 15 hours — I can't remember exactly how much now — but the numerous hours that occurred prior to that time in terms of the confessions where he denied, where he said, "I wasn't involved, I wasn't there."' How'd they get him from point A to point Z, we don't know because it wasn't taped.

NARRATOR: Since Joe Dick said in one of his statements that Derek was involved in the crime with two unknown men, Derek now had to identify them.

DEREK TICE: Who was it? And I said the first name that popped into my head. I said, "Well, Geoffrey Farris." The next name that popped into my head was Rick Pauley. And because they popped into my head and I uttered their names, they were arrested.

NARRATOR: By then, four men were in jail— Danial, Joe, Eric and Derek. Then with Farris and Pauley, there were six. And there was still no DNA match. So the police went back to Derek.

DEREK TICE: They decided to give me a plea agreement as long as I named the DNA match.

OFRA BIKEL: How would you know the DNA match?

DEREK TICE: I wouldn't. But you know, at that time, I was, like, "Well, I don't know who the DNA match is, but you know, I'll give it a shot."

NARRATOR: Ford seemed interested in a former Navy man named John Danser.

DEREK TICE: John Danser was a shipmate of mine on the George Washington. And he had moved back up to Pennsylvania May or June of that year, and he didn't come back down to Norfolk to visit until August, after Dan had been arrested. And I knew this. So I was arguing with Ford, "No, C.J., John Danser, wasn't there." And after a little while, it was, like, OK, he wants me to put John Danser into the story. So it was, like, "OK, well, you want him there, John was there."

NARRATOR: The problem was that Danser had an alibi. The day of the crime happened to have been his birthday.

JENNIFER STANTON, John Danser's attorney: My client's alibi was that he was living in Warminster, Pennsylvania, at the time, which is right outside of Philadelphia. He was working with an HVAC company the entire day of the murder. He came home, took a shower, went out with friends to celebrate his birthday, and then went back to work the next morning. That was his alibi.

DEREK TICE: So they brought me back to the police headquarters and said, "Hey, John Danser's got an alibi a mile long."

OFRA BIKEL: Who said it?

DEREK TICE: That was Robert Glenn Ford. He goes, "You lied to us." He said, "You lied to me. That's it. John Danser didn't do it. John Danser wasn't there." But guess what? They still prosecuted him. They didn't let him go, even with an air-tight alibi. One month later, he's at a preliminary hearing to determine whether they have enough evidence to charge him with murder and rape. Forget the truth. Forget justice. Forget the alibi! As far as the Commonwealth of Virginia's concerned, John Danser was in that apartment. So I had to testify at his preliminary hearing.


DEREK TICE: Saying that he was there.

OFRA BIKEL: By then, you knew he had an alibi. They knew he had an alibi. They knew that you knew he had an alibi. What were they thinking?

DEREK TICE: That's the million-dollar question. You would have to ask the Commonwealth what they were thinking.

NARRATOR: Detective Ford would not talk to us despite repeated requests, but in a deposition in 2006, he made the following statement.

DES HOGAN, Attorney: What's the truth about what occurred?

Det. GLENN FORD: That every one of them was guilty. And I still believe that today.

DES HOGAN: How many people is that?

Det. GLENN FORD: Every one of them.

JAY SALPETER, Former NYPD Detective: Ford had to protect his work. He couldn't come back looking ridiculous, or how in the world could can one detective take so many confessions? Somebody's going to wake up. Unfortunately, nobody did in this case. The writing was on the wall. Everyone's DNA is coming back negative. Isn't anyone going to wake up here? Where's your prosecutor?

NARRATOR: The prosecutor, D.J. Hansen, also refused to give an interview on camera. But in 2001, he appeared on a TV program called Medical Detectives about the case, expressing full confidence in the work of the police.

D.J. HANSEN, Prosecutor: The police detectives in this case were very professional. It's not their business to obtain confessions at any cost. They're interested in the truth.

NARRATOR: In a part of the interview which never aired, Hansen revealed his thoughts about the growing pool of defendants.

D.J. HANSEN: When I look back on it, it seems as though, as frustrating as it was to have this DNA come back that it was not these guys one after the other, it was almost as though Michelle was telling us that, "You don't have everybody yet." And if that was the one thing I take away from this case, that— that we were able to get as many people as we were, as though she kept telling us that, "You don't have them all yet and there's more." And it just so happened that that's the way the— the case fell, that one after the other, these men at first wouldn't implicate themselves, and eventually, some implicated everybody. So we knew that this was a gang rape and murder without a doubt.

NARRATOR: There were now seven.

DANNY SHIPLEY, Danial Williams's Attorney: The prosecution — and that includes the police and the prosecutor's office — had a theory of the case. And every time a new person surfaced, they had a different version of what happened. And instead of sitting down, saying, "You know, there's a problem here with this case. This case is nothing like we've seen before. It's going in 12 different directions. It goes this way, then it goes this way"— and the only thing they were concerned about was preserving the people they had already charged, preserving those convictions.

They would bend their theory of the case to conform to the new confession, the new physical evidence. Any time somebody confessed, there were discrepancies, so they would come in and say, "Well, our theory here was wrong, but we've tweaked it a little bit, so now we're going this way with it." They were simply bending their case to fit whatever evidence came before them.

NARRATOR: Danser's case marked a turning point for Derek. He recanted his confession.

DEREK TICE: After, you know, five, six months of sitting in jail and listening to other inmates talking, and talking to my family and my girlfriend at the time, my brain finally kicked back in and rational thought came back in. And I was, like, "I can't do this. It's against my morals to send an innocent man to jail."

ALLAN ZALESKI, Derek Tice's Attorney: When it got to the trial date, he couldn't do it. He told me, "I can't do this. I cannot throw my friends under the bus."

DEREK TICE: So about a month later, I signed the paperwork pulling out of the plea agreement. And within a week, Rick Pauley, Geoffrey Farris and John Danser were released because there wasn't enough evidence.

NARRATOR: As for Derek himself, he would have to go to trial, where he would now face the death penalty.

Then an unexpected turn. A woman gave the police a letter which her daughter-in-law had received from a man in prison. It was an angry love letter. It was also a threatening one.

"You wanted to know how I really felt about you, and I told you. You never even wrote back. Ain't no forgiving you. You thought you knew me, you don't. Nobody knows me."

His name was Omar Abdul Ballard. The letter ended with a stunning admission— that he, Ballard, killed Michelle Bosko.

"You remember that night I went to Mommy's house, and the next morning Michelle got killed? Guess who did that? Me. Ha, ha."

NARRATOR: Ballard had been in prison for two years after viciously beating a woman in the same apartment complex where Michelle was murdered. He also raped a 14-year-old girl less than a mile away. Both crimes were committed within three weeks of Michelle's murder.

GREGG McCRARY, FBI Special Agent, 1969-94: Sexual homicides are very rare. In that year, 1997, in the United States, based on FBI statistics, there were 67 rape-murders in the United States. That's out of over 15,000 murders, only 67. So someone who is sexually violent is a very unusual sort of crime. So you need to look for any prior similar crimes at all. And here we had this brutal rape and murder. And then three weeks later, another brutal rape, but not a murder, a beating. But then we had the beating of a woman just before this 100 feet from Michelle Bosko's apartment. They ignored that.

NARRATOR: Ballard grew up in foster homes in New Jersey, a tough kid in a tough neighborhood. In Norfolk, he joined up with an old friend, Tamika Taylor, that friend of Michelle Moore-Bosko at the apartment complex. Ballard's DNA, which had been stored since his arrest a year and a half before, was quickly analyzed. It was a match.

JENNIFER STANTON, John Danser's Attorney: He was in custody shortly after Michelle Moore-Bosko was killed. He had these convictions. His DNA was in the data bank, and nobody did anything to try to run it through the data bank to see if there was a match.

OFRA BIKEL: Because if there was a match, the whole case wouldn't have happened?

JENNIFER STANTON: Their theory would have fallen apart in a big way. But if they had done it and they learned of the match much earlier on, then five or six other people would never have been investigated and would never have been charged.

NARRATOR: Ballard confessed almost immediately and said he had acted alone.

DEREK TICE: I was on cloud nine because now they've got a DNA match, and he's saying he did it alone. Hey, when somebody's DNA matches, it proves they were there. He's saying he did it alone. I go to trial, I'm going home.

ERIC WILSON: I thought it would be any day now they would let me go and that I would be able to go home. But my lawyer— my lawyer was ever the realist and he said, "Don't expect it. That's not how the system works. You're going to go to trial."

NARRATOR: And that's what happened. The state was undeterred. After two years of secret interrogations, accusations and confessions, Eric Wilson would be the first of the accused to go to trial.

ERIC WILSON: I still had some faith in the system. And I believed that since I did not do it, and then when the DNA evidence came back, I knew— I knew in my heart that I would not be convicted because I wasn't there and I could prove it.

NARRATOR: But by now, the prosecution had a new theory, involving eight people— the four original sailors, the three who had been released and Omar Ballard, who the prosecution believed was part of what was now a gang rape, in spite of his claim that he'd acted alone.

ALLAN ZALESKI, Derek Tice's Attorney: I remember Mr. Ballard arriving on the scene, and it was— it was a surprising event. And the funny thing was that he said that he acted alone. And of course, the detectives were trying to get him to bring in the other seven, and he said, "No, I did it myself."

RICHARD LEO, University of San Francisco: If they were rational, objective, fair-minded police and prosecutors, they would have let everybody else go. But they couldn't admit what was so obvious, they made a mistake, a big mistake. Four people had been interrogated coercively, confessed to a crime they didn't commit, and instead of acknowledging that mistake and these individuals' innocence, they tried to make— they tried to link Omar Ballard to these individuals. They tried to make it a group crime.

NARRATOR: The new prosecution theory was an even more complicated conspiracy— that by chance, Ballard had met the seven defendants in the parking lot of the building complex, and decided to join them in the crime.

GREGG McCRARY, FBI Special Agent, 1969-94: Ballard clearly was directly responsible for this crime. But there was no association between Ballard and the Navy guys, yet they had to weave this preposterous sort of conspiracy theory together, where these seven or eight Navy guys were in the parking lot, trying to get into the apartment, but they couldn't.

Well, this goes against the initial theory that Williams went into the apartment because he knew her. Well, but now they couldn't get in. But now Ballard came along, a stranger, they said, "Hey, we have this great idea, we want to rape and murder this woman in this apartment. Would you help us?" And Ballard said, "Oh, yeah. For sure. No problem. I'll get you in. It's not a problem." And then these eight guys or nine guys go into the apartment, and according to the state's theory, raped and murdered her.

[ Experts' analysis of this story]

NARRATOR: Ballard appeared at the trial only to plead the 5th. The judge informed the jury that Ballard's DNA matched the semen found in the victim and that he claimed to have acted alone. They key witness for the prosecution was Joe Dick. Having agreed to cooperate, his testimony had to support the prosecution's newest theory of the eight perpetrators. Eric Wilson's defense lawyer, Greg McCormack, tried to emphasize the absurdity of this version of events.

[trial transcript]

GREG McCORMACK, Eric Wilson's Attorney: All seven of you went out to the parking lot, correct?

JOE DICK, Jr.: That's correct.

GREG McCORMACK: While you and Eric are out there talking, I understand an eighth person comes up?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yes.

GREG McCORMACK: And this eighth person is who?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Ballard. I didn't know him at the time, Your Honor, until I was told of his name.

DEREK TICE: When Joe Dick testified that the seven of us guys tried to get into Miss Bosko's apartment, but we couldn't because she didn't know any of us, and we all go outside into the parking lot and meet this total stranger and start talking about a crime that we want to commit, and he goes, "Oh, well, I can get you in the apartment"— and he just joins us? I mean, that's something out of a science fiction book.

DANNY SHIPLEY, Danial Williams's Attorney: You just— you know, if it was on TV, you wouldn't believe it. It doesn't make any sense. I mean, how can you go from these seven white guys, sailors, to this black guy sex offender that don't even know each other, hook up and make a conspiracy to go in and rape and murder this girl? It just— it doesn't make any sense. It's absurd.

NARRATOR: Led by the prosecutor, Joe described the crime of eight men raping and stabbing the victim.

[trial transcript]

JOE DICK, Jr.: We all rushed in. We grabbed her. Somebody put their hand over her mouth.

D.J. HANSEN, Prosecutor: How did you grab her?

JOE DICK, Jr.: I grabbed the left leg. Somebody else grabbed the right leg. There were two more people on the arms and somebody had their hand over her mouth.

D.J. HANSEN: What did you do?

JOE DICK, Jr.: We all took turns. I'm not sure of the order.

D.J. HANSEN: Took turns doing what?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Raping her.

NARRATOR: Joe remembers being torn inside by his testimony.

JOE DICK, Jr.: Around the time of Eric's trial, I had started to think or come to the conclusion that, "Yeah, I was there. I did do this." And that's not a good feeling, thinking that you did something that you never did.

NARRATOR: Eric's mother, Ramey, was sitting in the courtroom.

RAMEY WILSON: I should have been angry. I should have just been so angry with him because he was up there saying that my son did these horrible things that I knew he didn't do. And instead of being angry at him, I could only feel sorry for him. He was such a sad person, just a shell of a person saying what he had to say to save his life.

JAMES BROCCOLETTI, Derek Tice's Trial Attorney: He reminded me very much of somebody that had suffered greatly while he was in prison. And he had lost both whatever physical stature, weight and complexion and looks that he may have had. So when he presented himself, he presented himself almost as a ghost.

NARRATOR: Joe's testimony and record of confessions were distressingly graphic and detailed.

[trial transcript]

JOE DICK, Jr.: After I [expletive] in Michelle's mouth, Dan and I switched places. I [expletive] Michelle's [expletive] for about five minutes, and then got up and held her wrists down again. Then after we had switched places—

Prof. PETER BROOKS, Author, Troubling Confessions: Well, you wonder how these suspects could have come up with these really depraved narratives of sexual assault, rape and murder. And as I read through them, and particularly the one of, I think it was of Dick, it seemed to me that there was a clue in that they were— they were kind of low-grade male pornographic fantasies, something out of a bad porno movie, particularly the one where two of them are having sex with her at the same time, one oral sex and one intercourse. And you said, "Wait a minute. This sounds like something he's making up out of his own deep phantasms," right? And it obviously bore no relation to the state of the corpse and the DNA evidence, and so on.

NARRATOR: Eric's lawyer implied that Joe's testimony stemmed from his fear of the death penalty.

[trial transcript]

GREG McCORMACK: Mr. Dick, you would agree you are a liar, correct?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yes.

GREG McCORMACK: You would agree that you have given totally false versions of this event on numerous occasions?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yes.

GREG McCORMACK: You have lied in court, have you not?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yes.

GREG McCORMACK: Because Joseph Dick does not want to die, correct?

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yes, sir.

NARRATOR: Eric took the stand in his own defense. He claimed that his confession was false and was extracted by Detective Ford, who was, he said, very aggressive, very threatening, very angry. The prosecutor asked Eric if he would confess to killing someone if it weren't true.

ERIC WILSON: At that point in time, if they had told me that I killed JFK, I would have told them that I handed Oswald the gun.

NARRATOR: Both Eric and his lawyer were optimistic.

ERIC WILSON: I honestly and truly felt that I was going to go home that day a free man because I didn't do it. I had— all my hope and all my faith was put into that one moment, and it was shattered.

NARRATOR: It shattered when his audiotaped confession was played in open court to a riveted jury.

ERIC WILSON: [police audiotape] Dan, Joe and Michelle went and sat on this couch. They were just talking a little bit, and Dan grabbed her, put her on the ground, and everyone started wrestling. They asked me to join in. I said, "Fine."

RICHARD LEO: When confessions are introduced at a trial, what happens is the presumption of innocence goes out the window.

ERIC WILSON: [police audiotape] I think that the wrestling moved into the bedroom. I grabbed Michelle by either the shoulders or the upper arm. She was shaking her head left and right, started saying no.

RICHARD LEO: The confession— even when there's other evidence of innocence, the confession overrides that evidence. People ignore— jurors ignore that evidence.

ERIC WILSON: [police audiotape] I looked up, and Dan was about to start raping her. And I believe I went in next. I remember specifically her looking up at me afterwards, after I had finished, and asking me to help her. But I didn't know what to do. I was confused.

NARRATOR: The jury's verdict was guilty of rape.

ERIC WILSON: My statement is what got me convicted. It felt like someone hit me in the stomach, and it took everything I had not to collapse to my knees right there.

NARRATOR: He was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

RAMEY WILSON: It was very hard. It was very hard. You wake up with this feeling of devastation every morning, and you go to bed with it every night. It's just so unreal, especially when you have always had faith in the system.

ERIC WILSON: I was 20 years old when I went to the Persian Gulf. I was 29 when I was finally able to walk a free man.

NARRATOR: Eight months after Eric's verdict, Derek went to his trial.

DEREK TICE: [police audiotape] Dan started to strangle her to keep her from talking and to kill her. I made the statement, "Just get a knife and stab her."

NARRATOR: He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. His jury, too, couldn't get over the confession.

Danial and Joe decided not to face a jury and took a plea of life without parole, Danial because he was afraid of the death penalty, Joe because he had come to believe he was guilty. The confessions doomed them all.

[Editors' Note: Joe Dick Jr. was given two life sentences. The program incorrectly stated that he was sentenced to life without parole.]

DEREK TICE: [police audiotape] Then Dan stabbed her. I stabbed her—

NARRATOR: No one doubted that what they were hearing was the absolute truth.

DEREK TICE: [police audiotape] Eric stabbed her, Joe stabbed her, and Rick Pauley also stabbed her.

NARRATOR: The one confession no one believed was Omar Ballard's that he had acted alone.

OMAR BALLARD: [police audiotape] I alone committed the murders. There was no one with me. No one was ever present at any—

NARRATOR: In 2010, Ballard agreed to talk to us by phone from prison where he is serving a life sentence. He said the prosecution didn't want to hear that he had acted alone.

OMAR BALLARD: It was made clear from the jump that unless I said somebody else was with me that it wasn't going to be the truth. The only truth they wanted to hear was I did it with someone else.

NARRATOR: He avoided the death penalty by cutting a deal with the prosecution, agreeing to say that he committed the crime with the four original sailors.

OMAR BALLARD: I'm thinking, "Damn, this is like a miscarriage of justice because these people sitting here telling me what they want to hear, but they're not clearly wanting to hear the truth."

NARRATOR: He also told us that he was not surprised that the men had confessed.

OMAR BALLARD: They confessed out of fear. See, one thing about me is I'm not intimidated. So when Ford came to visit me on a number of occasions, I actually could see right through it. I understood why these guys made these statements. They confessed out of fear.

NARRATOR: Thirteen years after the murder, he wanted us to know the truth, he said, which he stands by.

OMAR BALLARD: The truth is that I alone committed the murders. There was no one with me. No one was ever present in any shape, form or fashion. No one ever had anything to say or do with the case besides me. That's what I stand by.

NARRATOR: By 2001, Danial, Joe, Eric and Derek had become known as the Norfolk Four. Their case started to attract national attention. In 2004, three major law firms signed on as pro bono advocates. The following spring, they submitted a detailed clemency petition to Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who passed it to his successor, Tim Kaine. Governor Kaine took three and a half years to reach a decision, which he announced shortly before leaving office.

Gov. TIM KAINE (D), Virginia: I am denying the request because I do not believe that the petitioners have met the burden that they have of demonstrating conclusively that they are innocent of all involvement in this crime.

NARRATOR: He would deny a request for full pardon. The confessions, he said, were too overwhelming to ignore.

Gov. TIM KAINE: As I have wrestled with the issue of the more than a dozen confessions given in different times in different places to different people, some in custodial interrogatory situations, but some in letters to third persons, I find, just as I believe the jury and judge found in this case, that it is difficult to completely ignore the entire weight of these confessions.

NARRATOR: But in the end, he said, he also had grave doubts about their guilt, so he granted the three still in prison conditional pardons.

Gov. TIM KAINE: I am granting a conditional pardon to three of the individuals—

NARRATOR: Derek, Danial and Joe were released the next day, August 10, 2009. They would be free but not exonerated. They would be branded felons and sex offenders.

If there was anyone who understood what their life would be like, it was Eric. He'd been released four years before.

ERIC WILSON: Once you have been convicted of this type of crime, you will be paying for it for the rest of your life. I've not been able to work on some jobs. I've actually been escorted off of one job when they found out.

NARRATOR: Three years ago, he met Misty. They got married. They love each other, but they struggle.

MISTY: We can't move into town because we're worried about what the neighbors will do, what they will say.

ERIC WILSON: Some areas actually require the police knock door to door and ask every one of your neighbors if it's OK if I move into the area.

MISTY: Yes, so we—

ERIC WILSON: You know, and if one neighbor says that it's not OK, you're not allowed to move into that area.

NARRATOR: Every year, Eric has to register as a sex offender.

RAMEY WILSON: It bothers Eric greatly that he has to go and register. It's an embarrassment every time he has to go because somebody sees that designation on a piece of paper. They don't know the story, and so they think he is a predator. And it's terribly embarrassing and very hard for him.

NARRATOR: They live in a rundown trailer that belongs to Misty's family. They have almost no friends left.

MISTY: When they found out that we were even dating, they were very upset. Several of them came to me, telling me, "Did you know that he's on the sex offender registry?" And they would not stay friends with me.

NARRATOR: They have a 2-year-old child, and Misty has a 7-year-old from a previous relationship, Garrett.

ERIC WILSON: Our oldest, he does not know anything about this, but it's not going to be long and he's going to start noticing that people look at us different.

MISTY: I think the hardest thing is Garrett. Eric is the only dad he's ever known, and he constantly asks why he has a different name. And more than anything, Eric wants to adopt him. We actually had tried at one point, but they told us he would have to pass a background check. And he can't. And it— it broke our hearts.

NARRATOR: It has been nine months since their release. Joe Dick is still wrestling with what happened.

JOE DICK, Jr.: There are times when I wish that I could have gone back and re-do that day to where things worked out differently. It's a part of me that I'll never be able to get rid of.

NARRATOR: He is on his way to Washington to meet with the appeal lawyers who helped to free the Norfolk Four. It will be their first time together since their arrests. Joe arrives at the meeting first. He had briefly met Derek and Danial recently, but he hasn't seen Eric since he testified against him at the trial. He is petrified.

JOE DICK, Jr.: Just knowing that I helped put two guys away who never should have been there—

DANIAL WILLIAMS: What's up, Joe?

NARRATOR: Derek and Danial try to make it easy for him.

JOE DICK, Jr.: This is a real ordeal for me.

ERIC WILSON: Good morning.

JOE DICK, Jr.: Eric, I'm sorry for getting you involved in this.

ERIC WILSON: It's all right, man. Don't worry about it.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: Like was said, they played all of us, you know? It's water under the bridge. Let's just move forward, you know?

ERIC WILSON: For a long time, I had a hard time with it. But you know, time heals everything, and eventually, you're able to see through everything and realize exactly what was going on. And once you can see the truth of the matter, it makes it a lot easier to move past it, you know, because it wasn't just you that I was mad at, I was mad at a lot of folks. And besides, being mad at someone only hurts yourself.

JOE DICK, Jr.: Yeah, that is true.

ERIC WILSON: Ford did it to all of us. You know, he did it to every one of us.

JOE DICK, Jr.: My attorney screwed me royal.

ERIC WILSON: I know he did. I know he did. And you know, it took me— it took me years. I mean, I was out before I could think clearly.

GEORGE KENDALL, Attorney: Guys, I can't tell you how happy we are to see you.

DEBORAH BOARDMAN, Attorney: Seeing you all here together, and seeing you out, it is so special to us.

DES HOGAN, Attorney: It's a lot better than seeing you in those browns and oranges that we saw you in last year and before.

NARRATOR: The lawyers want to update the men on their legal status and the next stages of the fight.

GEORGE KENDALL: We were as disappointed as you that we only got half a loaf from the pardon process. But as you all know, we're not done. We wanted to talk a little bit about the status of the legal proceedings.

DES HOGAN: Why don't we start with you, Derek. Your case is the furthest along. We won a state habeas on behalf of Derek, finding that Detective Ford and the Norfolk police committed constitutional violations in his—

GEORGE KENDALL: Joe, we're going to be going to court very quickly with your case. The paperwork is nearly done and— but we're going to face—

DES HOGAN: So we expect in the next few months to have an oral argument in the 4th Circuit, and we're confident that at the end of that, finally, this conviction will—

GEORGE KENDALL: And Eric, same with you. The hope is, just as with Dan and Joe, that the courts are going to say that evidence is strong enough that we're going to hear your appeal. Because if they hear your appeal, you have a very good chance of getting the second half of the loaf, getting—

NARRATOR: Then some startling news that broke a few days before back in Norfolk.

DES HOGAN: You may have read in the papers that Detective Ford was indicted several days ago for abuse of the criminal justice system.

NARRATOR: Detective Robert Glenn Ford had been indicted for extorting money from defendants in exchange for getting them favorable treatment. He has pled not guilty.

GEORGE KENDALL: What we're hoping is that the officials in Virginia will see that they had a serial offender of the law who had the power of the badge. He did it before your case, he did it during your case, and he's done it since.

DES HOGAN: The only thing that has kept you under these convictions for all these years is what happened in that room with Glenn Ford. And Ford now, it's— the light has finally been shown on him.

RICHARD LEO, University of San Francisco: It's not just one detective who is a rogue detective. This case is much more than just that. To understand why this case happened is really an indictment of the police, the prosecutors, to some extent— well, in addition to the police and prosecutors, the lawyers, the defense lawyers, and to some extent the judge and the jury. It really— this case really raises deep questions about the system, not just one actor or two actors in the system.

NARRATOR: So they are out, but they are not free. They have moved back to their parents, trying to put their lives together, finding solace mainly at home. Nicole Williams, Danial's wife, died while he was in prison.

DANIAL WILLIAMS: I'm not sure if I'll have a family because I don't know if there's someone that's going to want to be around me. I have to be registered as a sex offender for the next 25 years.

DEREK TICE: I basically built myself a new cell, my bedroom. When I'm not at work, when I'm not in the kitchen eating dinner, I'm in my bedroom, watching TV, sleeping, because that's where I'm safe. So all I did was trade one cell for another. And until my name is cleared, that's how it's going to have to be.

[Derek Tice won his petition to have his conviction overturned, but the attorney general of Virginia has appealed it. The cases for the other three men are still pending.]

[Retired detective Robert Glenn Ford was found guilty in October 2010 on two of four extortion charges. He will be sentenced in February 2011.]

The Confessions

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posted november 9, 2010; updated december 3, 2010

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