An ex-sailor whose conviction for 1997 rape and murder of a woman was overturned will not face another trial, an encouraging development for three other former sailors who are fighting to be exonerated in the case.
The so-called "Norfolk Four" were convicted in the rape and murder of 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko, but they claimed their confessions were coerced by police. A fifth defendant, who said he acted alone, is serving life in prison for the crime.
A judge accepted a request by a special prosecutor to drop charges against Derek Tice of Clayton, N.C. He had served 11 years before being released.
"I'm still stunned," Tice said by telephone Thursday. "It's been a nightmare, to put it nicely. For me it's over, but there's three more guys still going through it and we've got to get them cleared as well."
Tice's convictions were overturned last year by a federal judge who ruled that his attorney should have tried to suppress his confession, but prosecutors had the option of retrying the case. D.J. Hansen, a special prosecutor from Chesapeake, said a retrial would have been futile.
"We don't have sufficient evidence without the confession," Hansen said. "It's pretty much the end of the line at this point."
The rest of the Norfolk Four _ Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Eric Wilson _ claim they were wrongfully convicted and continue to fight to clear their record, even though all have been released from prison.
In 1999, citing "grave doubts" about the convictions, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons for Tice, Williams and Dick, freeing them from prison but allowing their convictions to stand. Williams was already free after serving 8 1/2 years for rape, and his conviction also was unaffected.
"The dismissal of charges against Mr. Tice underscores his innocence and the grave injustice that was done to the Norfolk Four," said Dick's attorney, George Kendall. "If there is no case against Mr. Tice, then there can be no case against Mr. Dick, Mr. Williams or Mr. Wilson."
Tice's three co-defendants have state and federal appeals pending. Kendall said the state appeals focus on the actions of former Norfolk detective Robert Glenn Ford, who allegedly used threats and intimidation to extract false confessions from the men. Ford was convicted last year of extortion and lying to the FBI in a case unrelated to the Norfolk Four.
The dismissal of charges against Tice means he will no longer have to register as a sex offender and meet conditions of parole _ requirements that the other three men still must fulfill because their convictions remain.
"It is now time for Mr. Tice to try to rebuild his life with this grave injustice behind him," said Tice's attorney, E. Desmond Hogan. "We all look forward to the day when Dan Williams, Joe Dick and Eric Wilson _ the other innocent men of the Norfolk 4 _ can likewise put this tragic chapter behind them."
Tice, 41, is taking classes at a community college in hopes of getting into nursing school and is working for a window cleaning service. He said it was daunting finding a job after his release from prison _ 250 applications in three months resulted in no job interviews _ but being on the sex offender registry has been even tougher.
"Anyone can look at it and say, `Oh, he's a bad person.' Personally, to me that was very disheartening and hard to do," Tice said.
Thirty former FBI agents as well as some ex-prosecutors had lobbied to exonerate the Norfolk Four. Their cause also was championed by novelist John Grisham, who has homes in Virginia and Mississippi, and their story was featured in a PBS documentary, "The Confessions."
Tice said he's been amazed by the support.
"It shows the character of the American people," he said. "The majority of people, when they see an injustice they fight to correct it."
Larry O'Dell can be reached at http://twitter.com/LarryOatAP