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Still, Mr. Kaine said there were enough doubts to release the men from prison. For one thing, he said, the crime scene initially convinced police investigators that there was only one suspect.

Mr. Kaine also cited “a complete lack of any DNA or other physical evidence tying these individuals to the crime scene.”

Mr. Kaine said none of the original confessions mentions Ballard.

Ballard was “the one person who has been conclusively proven to have been a participant,” he said, citing DNA evidence and Ballard’s history of assaults against women.

“That Ballard confessed to committing the crime alone, and that he only changed his story to implicate the petitioners one year later on the verge of a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid possible capital murder charges, raises additional questions,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mrs. Moore-Bosko was raped and killed in her Norfolk apartment on July 7, 1997. Her husband, a sailor returning from sea, discovered the body. Dick pleaded guilty in 1999, while Wilson and Tice pleaded not guilty and were convicted.

The Virginia office of the attorney general for years has fought to uphold the convictions against Williams, Tice and Dick.

“The Constitution of Virginia vests the governor with an extraordinary power, that of executive clemency,” Virginia Attorney General Bill Mims said Thursday after the pardons were granted. “This power should be wielded rarely and with great care, since it supersedes the collective judgment of judges and juries.

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