The "Norfolk Four" are four men, Derek Tice, Danial Williams, Joseph J. Dick Jr., and Eric C. Wilson, who were convicted in 1999 for the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk, Virginia. Their convictions were the source of controversy, as their convictions were largely based on confessions which the men maintain were coerced with threats of receiving the death penalty if they did not plead guilty. Organizations such as the Innocence Project protested the convictions as a "miscarriage of justice", while Moore-Bosko's parents continue to believe that all those convicted were participants in the crime.
Three of the four men, Tice, Williams, and Dick, were sentenced to one or more life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole due to their having either pleaded guilty to or having been convicted of the murder, while Wilson was convicted of rape and sentenced to 8½ years in prison. Three other men, Geoffrey A. Farris, John E. Danser, and Richard D. Pauley, Jr., were also initially charged with the crime, but their charges were later dropped.
A fifth man, Omar Ballard, was also convicted of the crime and was sentenced to 100 years in prison, 59 of which were suspended. He is the only man whose DNA matches that found at the scene, and his confession states that he committed the crime by himself, with none of the other men involved. Forensic evidence is consistent with his story that there were no other participants.
At the time it was noted that there were no signs of a break-in or a struggle inside the apartment. As the investigation progressed, detective Robert Glenn Ford questioned residents of Moore-Bosko's development and was informed by Tamika Taylor, a friend of Moore-Bosko's, that another neighbor, Danial Williams, was "obsessed" with the murdered woman. Williams lived in an apartment near Bosko's with his wife and their roommate Joe Dick. Detective Ford interrogated both Williams and Dick and obtained confessions from them but their confessions were inconsistent both with each other and with the evidence. In the confessions, Williams claimed that he acted alone while Dick stated that he and Williams had committed the crime together. Dick also claimed to have committed the crime between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m, which clashed with Taylor's claims that she and Michelle had remained out from noon until 11:30 p.m. as well as naval logs that reportedly showed that Dick was on duty on the USS Saipan (LHA-2) at the time of the murder. The Chief Petty Officer that Dick reported to commented that he had taken special interest in Dick due to what he saw as the man's diminished mental capacity; he believed it to be "virtually impossible for Dick to sneak off, commit the crime and sneak back on board". Both men also claimed to have committed violent attacks or sexual assaults on the victim which were inconsistent with the physical evidence, such as Williams claiming to have beaten Michelle with a shoe and assaulting her to the face three times. Instead the coroner's report stated that Michelle had died due to being stabbed and strangled, upon which point Williams changed his confession to state that he "may have grabbed Michelle’s neck and that he had used a knife he found in the bedroom to kill her". Neither Williams nor Dick could provide an accurate description of the knife.
DNA evidence taken from the scene did not match Williams or Dick, which led a jailhouse informant to prompt Dick to name a co-conspirator. Eric Wilson was then named. The DNA did not match Wilson either and Dick indicated that a fourth man, whom he called "George" but whom he identified from photographs as Derek Tice, was also involved. Tice confessed and implicated three more men in the crime, and insisted that the group had broken into the apartment, which contradicted earlier evidence that showed that the apartment did not appear to have been broken into. Since the DNA evidence did not match Tice, the police got Dick to name three other men as co-conspirators. These men were ultimately never charged because they had ironclad alibis including one who was internet chatting with his girlfriend at the time of the murder and another who records showed had withdrawn money from a cash machine hundreds of miles away within minutes of when the murder had occurred. Critics of the police case also noted that the stab wounds to Moore-Bosko were all of a uniform depth and clustered closely together. This seemed to contradict the prosecution's assertion that multiple men had taken turns stabbing her, but seemed consistent with a scenario where one assailant stabbed her multiple times.
Williams, Wilson, and Tice were each brought to trial in 1999, with Williams pleading guilty to rape and capital murder in the hopes of getting a life sentence in exchange for a stipulation of facts. Lawyers for the three men mentioned that none of their DNA matched that found at Michelle's apartment, to which prosecutors stated that the lack of DNA evidence couldn't disprove that the defendants weren't at the scene. Williams was found guilty of rape and sentenced to eight and a half years, while Dick received life without parole and Tice received two consecutive life sentences.
On Jan. 15, 1998, Omar Ballard pleaded guilty to the rape of a fourteen-year-old girl. In February of the same year, he sent a letter to a female acquaintance threatening her and indicating that he had murdered Michelle Moore Bosko. It was later discovered that Ballard was an associate of Michelle Moore Bosko. Tamika Taylor, who had introduced Ballard to the Boskos and knew about his history of violence towards women, had told the police that they should investigate him as a possible suspect. Ballard was later investigated for the crime and arrested after it was discovered that his DNA matched that found at the crime scene. Ballard confessed to the crime, giving a description that aligned with the physical evidence. Despite police pressure to implicate Williams, Tice, Dick, and Wilson, Ballard insisted that he had committed the crime alone, saying that "those four who opened their mouths were stupid". The police incorporated Ballard into their theory of the crime, but insisted that Ballard refused to name his accomplices for fear of being labeled a "snitch" and that the other men, who had been willing to implicate others in the crime, were afraid of Ballard and thus refused to implicate him.
Retrials and aftermath
Williams appealed his verdict but was denied in 2000. Tice's conviction was reversed in 2002 by the Virginia Court of Appeals because Judge Poston had not allowed Tice's attorney to question Ballard about his written confession. During the retrial, Poston refused to allow the confession or statements in as evidence because they were not "properly authenticated", but the judge did allow Tice's attorney to read the confession letter aloud. Despite the retrial, Tice was again sentenced to life in prison.
In 2005 attorneys for Dick, Williams and Tice petitioned for clemency from Virginia governor Mark Warner. Warner did not rule on the petition, and it was considered by subsequent Virginia governor Tim Kaine. The claims of innocence were backed by several FBI agents as well as eleven of the jurors who initially convicted them. Tice's conviction was overturned on November 27, 2006 by a circuit court on constitutional grounds, but the conviction was reinstated by the Virginia Supreme Court. Tice filed a petition for habeas corpus with a United States District Court, and on September 14, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams vacated Tice's murder and rape convictions, on the ground that Tice had been denied his constitutional right to effective counsel. On November 19, 2009, Judge Williams ruled that prosecutors can retry Tice. On April 20, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Judge Williams' rulings vacating Tice's convictions. Tice was later freed in 2011 after the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Tice's confession should have been thrown out of court. On August 6, 2009, Kaine granted a conditional pardon to Dick, Tice, and Williams, releasing them from prison while not erasing their convictions. Part of the conditional release states that the three men are required to register as sex offenders and felons.
Wilson was released in 2005, but must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. In March 2010, he asked the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction. The court refused to hear Wilson's case, saying that since he was not in prison, on probation, on parole or on supervised release, he was not in custody and therefore could not petition for habeas. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit also refused to hear the case.
Former detective Glenn Ford was later indicted on May 2010 on an unrelated extortion charges of accepting payments from criminal suspects in return for favorable treatment, with him being found guilty of two of the four counts against him. This prompted attorneys for the Norfolk Four to call for full exoneration of their clients and in 2013 the Yale Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic filed a petition for the Supreme Court to clear Wilson's record of his crimes. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did not file a response, but the Supreme Court ordered him to file a brief by April 25, 2013. On June 24, 2013, Wilson's petition was denied. The case is Wilson v. Flaherty, No. 12-986.
- Leo and Tom Wells wrote a non-fiction account of the murder and subsequent trials entitled The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions, and the Norfolk Four (2008).
- The case was also featured in the 2001 episode of Forensic Files titled Eight Men Out.
- The Norfolk Four story was featured in a Frontline documentary titled "The Confessions" (original air date November 9, 2010) that aired on PBS .
- Central Park Five
- False confession
- Innocence Project
- List of exonerated death row inmates
- List of wrongful convictions in the United States
- Richard Ofshe
- West Memphis Three
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