RICHMOND — Three former sailors convicted in a 1997 rape and murder asked the Virginia Supreme Court on Wednesday to revive an appeal that is based on the corruption convictions of the former Norfolk detective who allegedly coerced them into making false confessions.
Attorneys for three members of the so-called Norfolk Four told a three-justice panel that although last year's convictions of Robert Glenn Ford are not directly related to their case, they are powerful new evidence of his willingness to manipulate the justice system to serve his own ends. Ford is serving a 12 ½-year prison sentence for extortion and lying to the FBI.
Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Everett Martin ruled that the men missed their deadline for raising the claim, but lawyers for the three said they had no way to know the extent of Ford's corrupt actions before he was indicted in May 2010. They asked the panel to reverse Martin's ruling so the appeal can be heard on its merits.
"This is a new due process claim," said Harmony Loube, attorney for Joseph Dick. "It involves bad faith and malicious intent."
Dick, Danial Williams, Eric Wilson and Derek Tice were convicted in the rape and slaying of 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko despite the absence of physical evidence connecting them to the crime. They later said that they falsely confessed after hours of grueling interrogation, intimidation and threats by police. A fifth man, Omar Ballard, also was convicted and has since said he acted alone. His was the only DNA found at the scene.
In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted Williams, Dick and Tice conditional pardons, freeing them from prison but leaving their convictions intact. Wilson was not eligible for the conditional pardon because he had already been released after serving 8 ½ years for rape.
Thirty former FBI agents and some ex-prosecutors had lobbied to exonerate the Norfolk Four, whose cause was also championed by novelist John Grisham. Their story was also featured in a PBS documentary, "The Confessions."
After Mr. Kaine granted the conditional pardons, Tice won a separate appeal. He is the only member of the Norfolk Four who has been fully exonerated. The other three still must endure the same hardships as other convicted felons and register as offenders, their lawyers say.
Wilson's attorney, Stephen Northup, said the case against Ford showed that "he was not just an overly zealous, bullheaded detective" but was someone who would intentionally lie and manipulate the system to cover up his misdeeds.
Ford was convicted of taking tens of thousands of dollars from drug dealers in exchange for getting them favorable treatment at sentencing.
Warren T. Allen II, who represents Williams, said Ford had a motive to persist in the case against the Norfolk Four despite evidence they were innocent.
"If he had been revealed to obtain a false confession, he could not have traded on his credibility to run his extortion scheme for personal gain," Mr. Allen said.
Attorneys for the men also said a former Norfolk police officer told them that he had heard Ford say he thought the four were innocent — evidence they can only get into court if the justices revive their appeal.
A decision on whether the full court will review the lower court's ruling is expected in about a month, attorneys said.