Settlement reached in infamous ‘Norfolk 4’ case — wrongful rape, murder convictions

This file photo combination of images provided by the U.S. Navy shows former sailors Eric Wilson, left photo, Danial Williams, second from left, Joe Dick, second from right, and Derek Tice, in undated file photos. (U.S. Navy via AP, File)
This file photo combination of images provided by the U.S. Navy shows former sailors Eric Wilson, left photo, Danial Williams, second from left, Joe Dick, second from right, and Derek Tice, in undated file photos. (U.S. Navy via AP, File)

The City of Norfolk has agreed to pay $4.9 million to four former sailors who were wrongly convicted of a woman’s rape and murder based on intimidating police interrogations. A copy of the settlement agreement for the “Norfolk Four” was obtained by The Associated Press.

The state also has agreed to pay $3.5 million.

The payments close out a decades-long case that drew widespread attention as the men’s innocence claims were backed by dozens of former FBI agents, ex-prosecutors and crime novelist John Grisham.

“These guys can now put all this behind them and try to recoup their lives,” said Tony Troy, a lawyer who represented one of the sailors.

The men — Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice — were pardoned by then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe last year of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko.

Moore-Bosko’s husband found her stabbed and strangled body in their apartment in July of that year after returning from a week at sea.

Williams, who lived in the same building, was quickly identified as a suspect because a neighbor told police he had a crush on the victim. Williams admitted to her rape and murder — the first of a series of confessions that the men, then-sailors at the Naval base in Norfolk, say were forced by police.

DNA evidence matched only one person: Omar Ballard, the fifth man convicted in the case. Ballard, who pleaded guilty in 2000, acknowledged he was solely responsible and is serving a life sentence.

The Norfolk Four have said they cracked after they were threatened with the death penalty and repeatedly called liars. One of the men recalled a detective shoving him into a corner and showing him a picture of Moore-Bosko’s bloody body. The confessions conflicted with one another. Ballard’s account was the only one containing information matching the crime scene.

The detective who questioned them, Robert Glenn Ford, was convicted in 2011 of extortion and lying to the FBI in unrelated cases.

In vacating some of the Norfolk Four’s convictions, a federal judge once declared that “no sane human being” could find them guilty.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approved legislation earlier this year that gives the men $3.5 million in state funds contingent on them resolving claims against the city.

Sen. Scott Surovell, a sponsor the legislation, said he was pleased that the city agreed to settle rather than fight the men.

“Justice was long overdue for these four, what happened to them was outrageous and undermines faith in our criminal justice system,” he said. “Hopefully this settlement will help ensure this never happens again.”

The settlement with the city was finalized a month ago but had not been previously made public. A city spokeswoman referred questions to the City Attorney Bernard Pishko, who did not immediately return requests for comment.

The false convictions took a heavy toll on the four men, including lengthy prison terms and years as registered sex offenders.

Wilson, who was wrongly convicted of rape, said it took an attorney and $10,000 to persuade a board to grant him an electrician’s license and that he was blocked from working on certain properties, such as schools, and barred from city parks. He also said his son was run out of his Cub Scout troop because other parents didn’t want Wilson around.

Steve Northup, an attorney for Wilson, called the city’s payout “generous.”

“It doesn’t restore the 20 years of his life that Eric lost … but nevertheless it helps and we’re pleased and our clients are pleased with the compensation we were able to secure for them,” he said.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.