CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The Virginia attorney general's office said Wednesday that it will no longer oppose overturning the rape and murder convictions of two former sailors after a federal judge declared last month that "no sane human being" could find the men guilty.
U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. said last month that evidence shows Danial Williams and Joseph Dick did not commit the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. He urged the state to free the men of the "continuing shackles of their convictions."
Attorney General Mark Herring's office said in motions filed Wednesday that in light of the judge's decision, it will no longer contest their efforts to be declared innocent by the court. Herring's office is now asking the court to grant the men's writs of habeas corpus, which would have the effect of vacating their convictions, said Herring spokesman Michael Kelly.
Prior to Gibney's decision last month, the attorney general's office had defended the men's convictions and urged the court at an evidentiary hearing last year to reject their innocence bids.
An attorney for Williams said he's pleased that the state has "finally conceded error" and will no longer fight the case.
"We look forward to Judge Gibney acting on the Commonwealth's request that our clients' convictions be vacated," attorney Don Salzman said in a statement.
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 Williams, Dick and Derek Tice because of doubts about their guilt but allowed their convictions to remain. The fourth man, Eric Wilson, had already been released.
Tice's conviction has already been overturned. DNA evidence matched a fifth man, Omar Ballard, who confessed to committing the crime alone. He is serving a life sentence.
Williams and Dick are no longer in prison, but face certain restrictions because they're still on parole and must also register as sex offenders.
Associated Press reporter Kasey Jones contributed to this report from Baltimore.