Thursday, 6 August 2009

Gov. Kaine pardons three members of the Norfolk Four

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said today he has granted conditional pardons to three members of the “Norfolk Four,” a group of sailors convicted of raping and killing young Navy wife Michelle Moore-Bosko in 1997 in Ocean View.

Kaine said in a news conference that he has granted pardons to three sailors, still in prison, who were convicted of rape and murder. Kaine declined to pardon another former sailor, Eric Wilson, who was convicted of rape only and was released from prison in 2006 after serving more than eight years.

The conditional pardons mean that Derek Tice, Danial Williams and Joseph Dick Jr. will spend no more time in prison. They each were sentenced to life for the crime. Kaine said he decided there were "grave doubts about at least the level of their complicity in the crime."

A fifth man, Omar Ballard, was later convicted and has said he alone raped and killed Moore-Bosko. His DNA was the only one found at the scene.

In a statement e-mailed to The Virginian-Pilot, Carol and John Moore, the parents of Moore-Bosko, said they are "devastated" by Kaine's decision.

The governor "has chosen to ignore the facts and history of this case by granting a conditional pardon to these confessed and convicted rapists and murderers. There is absolutely zero new evidence or information to justify this decision."

Moore-Bosko, 18, was killed in her apartment in Norfolk. Her husband, William, found her body July 8, 1997, when he returned from a Navy deployment.

The Norfolk Four case had twists and turns from the beginning: First, a single man, Moore-Bosko’s neighbor Danial Williams, was charged with murder. Six months later, Joseph Dick Jr. also was charged.

In the months that followed, a total of eight men were arrested. Charges against three were withdrawn. Four of the five men convicted said their confessions to the crimes were coerced and that they are innocent. Their lawyers say Ballard, the last man to be charged in the crime, committed the killing alone.

Williams, Dick, Tice and Wilson asked the governor for pardons. Their clemency petition was filed in 2005 when then-Gov. Mark Warner was Virginia’s chief executive. Their plight has become a cause celebre in some circles, inspiring a book and a screenplay about the case.

Kaine said an absolute pardon was not appropriate because the sailors had “not conclusively established their innocence.”

But he said they raised substantial doubts about their convictions, warranting a conditional pardon. Their sentences will be reduced to the time served and they will be on unsupervised probation.

In today's statement, the Moores said: "We do not believe it is a coincidence that Governor Kaine granted these pardons just a few weeks after the announcement that John Grisham intends to write a screenplay about this case. Stories about rapists and murderers who confess, then spend the rest of their lives in prison, do not make interesting movies."

Grisham told The Pilot in a recent interview that he didn't believe the four men were guilty.

Since 2000, Grisham has donated more than $390,000 to Virginia Democrats, including $175,000 to Kaine and his political action committee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a statewide tracker of campaign donations.

Grisham serves on the board of directors of The Innocence Project, which fights to free wrongfully convicted inmates. The head of the organization said those convicted in 25 percent of the 241 DNA exonerations nationwide gave false confessions.

The case has caught the attention of several former Virginia attorneys general and retired federal agents who each held press conferences last year to proclaim their belief in the innocence of the sailors.

In another twist, a 2006 Norfolk Circuit Court ruling essentially vacated Tice’s earlier conviction on the grounds that he had ineffective trial lawyers. But the state Supreme Court upheld the conviction on appeal in January 2008.

Attorney General Bill Mims released a statement today that said: “The Office of the Attorney General has represented the interests of the Commonwealth and sought justice, as we are bound to do by law, and vigorously defended the multiple convictions of these individuals.

“I have the utmost respect for Governor Kaine and am confident his decision was made with great care."

Information on when the three men will be released from prison will not be released to the public, said Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections.

Traylor said the information is being withheld for security and privacy reasons.


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