RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday threw out the rape and murder convictions of two former sailors who have long maintained that police intimidated them into falsely confessing to the crimes nearly two decades ago.
Danial Williams and Joseph Dick are two of the so-called "Norfolk Four" — ex-sailors who claimed they were wrongfully convicted of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. The four men, who were 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.
Williams and Dick have been out of prison since 2009 when they were freed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine because of doubts about their guilt. The tossing of their convictions means they will no longer be under parole supervision or registered as sex offenders. While on parole, Williams been subject to a curfew seven days a week and forced to wear an ankle bracelet that tracks his movements.
U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. said he will give prosecutors 60 days to decide whether to retry the men. Gibney's action comes about a month after he declared the men innocent, remarking that "no sane human being" could find them guilty.
When asked by Gibney whether the state will pursue another trial, Senior Assistant Attorney General Virginia Theisen said she could not speak on behalf of the local prosecutor who will ultimately make the decision. A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring's office declined further comment after the hearing.
Williams' attorney, Don Salzman, said it would unwise for the state to try to bring another case.
"Judge Gibney has made it as clear as any judge can make it that he thinks they are innocent," Salzman said in an interview. "We think a retrial would be a terrible injustice."
Derek Tice, another member of the Norfolk Four, had his conviction overturned in 2009. Eric Wilson, who was convicted only of the rape, has been unable to convince courts to do the same because he already completed his sentence. Williams, Dick and Tice were still on parole when they challenged their convictions.
DNA evidence in the case matched a fifth man, Omar Ballard, who confessed to committing the crime alone. He is serving a life sentence.
"If we had all known then what we all know, it would've been different," Gibney said Monday.
Williams testified at a hearing in April 2015 that he falsely confessed to the crime because he wanted the 11-hour interrogation to be over. Dick testified that he was confused by the interrogation, during which he was threatened with the death penalty.
"My head was so spun around I didn't know left from right, up from down," Dick said at the time.
That detective, Robert Glenn 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.
Salzman, Williams' attorney, said while he is pleased with Monday's decision, their work on the case is not over. Attorneys for the four men plan to ask Gov. Terry McAuliffe to formally declare the men innocent, he said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer.