In 1997, Michelle Moore-Bosko’s husband discovered her body, raped, stabbed and strangled, in the apartment they shared. He had been at sea the previous week. The police immediately identified a neighbor, Navy sailor Danial Williams, as the prime suspect because he reportedly had a crush on the victim.
Williams confessed to the crime, as did four other men. Williams, along with three other sailors, Eric Wilson, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice, say they were coerced into those confessions. One described a police detective shoving him into a corner and confronting him with a photo of the victim’s bloody body. The four, now known as “the Norfolk Four,” say they were repeatedly called liars and threatened with the death penalty. They say they simply cracked under pressure.
- The fifth man convicted in the case, Omar Ballard, has admitted being solely responsible for the crime. He is currently serving a life sentence.
- The five confessions conflicted with one another, and Ballard’s was the only confession with information that matched the crime scene.
- DNA from the scene only matched Ballard.
- In 2011, the detective who interrogated the men was convicted in unrelated cases of extortion and lying to the FBI.
- A federal judge who vacated some of the Norfolk Four’s convictions commented that “no sane human being” would convict them.
The Virginia legal system now acknowledges that they were indeed coerced into confessing and were wrongfully convicted as a result. The City of Norfolk has now agreed to pay the four men $4.9 million. The State of Virginia will pay an additional $3.5 million. The men were pardoned last year.
The four innocent men have paid a heavy price for their wrongful convictions. Beyond the unjust prison time, they were also required to register as sex offenders. Eric Wilson says he had to fight for an electrician’s license, which cost him $10,000, and he was still barred from working on schools or city parks. His son’s Cub Scout troop kicked him out because they didn’t want his sex-offender father around.
When a shocking crime occurs, law enforcement is under tremendous pressure to get results. That sometimes leads to mistakes, such as focusing on the wrong person, failing to fully investigate, or even coercive tactics such as those seen here. Unfortunately, these kinds of pressure-driven errors are all too common in sex offense cases of all types.
Not everyone accused of a sex crime is guilty, but police and prosecutors often treat defendants as if they had already been convicted. The Norfolk Four case should remind us of how crucial the presumption of innocence can be in our legal system.