Washington Post

January 13, 2008

Court affirms sailor's conviction as his innocence is declared
Ex-attorneys general say he and 3 other men did not commit crime
by Tom Jackman

On a day when four former Virginia attorneys general declared that four Norfolk, Va., sailors were innocent of rape and murder, the Virginia Supreme Court Friday affirmed the conviction of one of the sailors and reinstated his two life sentences without parole.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Derek Tice, 37, one of four sailors who confessed and were convicted in the 1997 rape and killing of Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk. Although the men - known as the “Norfolk Four” - quickly recanted their confessions, three were found guilty and received life sentences. A fourth was convicted only of rape and was released in 2005.

After the sailors were arrested, another man admitted that he committed the crimes, and his DNA matched evidence from the scene. None of the arrested sailors, who numbered seven at one point, had DNA that matched the evidence. Although the man who admitted to the crimes was convicted, Norfolk authorities still prosecuted the four sailors.

The three who were convicted of murder convinced the Innocence Project - a group that works on behalf of inmates it believes were wrongly convicted - to take up their case. Attorneys from three prominent law firms now represent the men, handling their appeals and pressing Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine to grant clemency.

They won a victory in 2006 when a Norfolk Circuit Court judge ruled that Tice’s trial attorneys had been ineffective because they had not tried to suppress Tice’s confession. But the Supreme Court reversed that ruling Friday.

The court’s decision will not affect the clemency petitions for Tice, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Eric Wilson, supporters said.

“We were disappointed, naturally,” by the ruling, said Deborah Boardman, Tice’s lead counsel.

But she said that the legal team had not expected relief from the courts.

“The only way this injustice is going to be corrected is when this governor reviews this case and grants them clemency,” Boardman said.

The four confessions “are really, perhaps ironically, the key evidence to demonstrate their innocence,” said Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney and Virginia attorney general. He noted that the confessions repeatedly conflict not only with each other but with the physical evidence and with the confession of the one man who still admits to raping and stabbing Moore-Bosko.

Cullen said that the separation of the defendants into individual cases prevented the courts from seeing the larger picture. He said that Kaine, a lawyer, would be able to do that.

The governor has not indicated when he might decide on the clemency requests.

Tice’s trial was moved to Alexandria because of pretrial publicity in Norfolk. Tice’s claim that he asked detectives for an attorney but was denied one before confessing was not presented to a judge as a possible constitutional violation.

In November 2006, Circuit Court Judge Everett Martin Jr. ruled that if Tice’s attorneys had tried to get the confession thrown out, they probably would have succeeded, and that if the jury hadn’t heard Tice’s confession, it would have acquitted him.

On Friday, in an opinion written by Justice Barbara M. Keenan, the Supreme Court reversed Martin’s ruling.

Keenan wrote that Tice’s attorneys did not prove “that there was a reasonable probability of a different result at his criminal trial if the jury had not considered his confession.” She pointed to Dick’s testimony implicating Tice.

In January 2006, 11 jurors from Tice’s trial signed letters and affidavits saying they now believed that Tice was innocent.


Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice