RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A former sailor testified Thursday that he falsely confessed to a 1997 rape and murder because he wanted the 11 hours of grueling interrogation by aggressive police detectives to end.
"I just couldn't take it anymore," Danial Williams said. "I couldn't take being called a liar, the pressure."
Williams and Joseph Dick Jr. testified at an evidentiary hearing in U.S. District Court in Richmond, where they are trying to get their convictions for the rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko overturned. Williams and Dick are two of the so-called "Norfolk Four," ex-sailors who have long claimed that police coerced them into falsely confessing.
The four men, who were all stationed at the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, drew national attention when their innocence claims were backed by dozens of former FBI agents, ex-prosecutors and novelist John Grisham. In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine freed three of the men because of doubts about their guilt but allowed their convictions to remain. The fourth man, Eric Wilson, had already been released.
Derek Tice is the lone member of the Norfolk Four who has managed to get his convictions overturned. DNA evidence in the case matched a fifth man, Omar Ballard, who confessed to committing the crime alone. He is serving a life sentence.
Williams, who lived in the same apartment building as Moore-Bosko, testified that the woman's husband came to his door and asked him to call 911 after finding his wife dead. Williams said he went to the police station voluntarily to answer detectives' questions because "I had nothing to hide," but it soon became apparent that he was a suspect.
One detective's initially friendly tone turned hostile, he said, and after several hours another officer took over. Detective Robert Glenn Ford was "very angry, aggressive, like a bulldog," Williams said.
Ford wore him down by repeatedly calling him a liar, Williams said, and told him he was facing a capital murder charge if he didn't confess. He said Ford helped him rehearse a confession several times before taping it. Williams said in the statement that he beat Moore-Bosko with his fist and a shoe, but evidence later showed she had been strangled and stabbed.
Ford was convicted in 2011 of extortion and lying to the FBI in unrelated cases. He is serving 12½ years in prison for taking tens of thousands of dollars from drug dealers in exchange for getting them favorable treatment at sentencing.
Dick testified that Ford's relentless interrogation and threat of the death penalty left him confused.
"My head was so spun around I didn't know left from right, up from down," Dick said.
Dr. Richard Ratner, a forensic psychiatrist, said testing showed that Dick is "extremely suggestible" and easily intimidated — traits that made him vulnerable to the detectives' tactics.
University of San Francisco law professor Richard A. Leo said people doubt the reality of false confessions because they don't believe they would ever make one. But most people know nothing about how police interrogations can distort a suspect's thinking, said Leo, an expert in the subject.
He said it appears that Dick eventually came to believe that he must have participated in the crime even though he couldn't remember it.
Tice also testified that Ford used the death penalty threat against him.
"He told me I was going to get the needle if I kept lying," Tice said.
But he said he didn't crack until Ford showed him a picture of the victim's body and asked, "How would you feel if this was your daughter?" Tice's daughter was 4 at the time.
"I couldn't even imagine her being hurt," Tice said. "A picture of her being dead destroyed me. I put my head in my hands and started to sob. I just didn't want that image in my head."
He added: "The only way I felt I would get out of that room and away from Ford was to tell him what he wanted to hear."
U.S. District Judge John Gibney will hear from prosecution witnesses, including some former Norfolk detectives, Friday but is not expected to make a decision for a few weeks.