(Reuters) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday pardoned four U.S. Navy veterans known as the "Norfolk Four," clearing them of high-profile rape and murder convictions based on false confessions following high-pressure police questioning, attorneys said on Tuesday.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, granted full pardons for the four men in the 1997 rape and killing of 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk, attorneys for the ex-sailors said in a statement.
Crime scene and forensic evidence, including DNA, showed that another man, Omar Ballard, committed the crimes. He confessed to the crimes and is serving a double-life sentence.
One of the four men, Eric Wilson, said he and Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice had been haunted by the wrongful convictions for 20 years.
McAuliffe "has given us our lives back with these full pardons," he said in a statement from attorneys Stephen Northup, George Kendall, Desmond Hogan and Donald Salzman. A spokesman for McAuliffe could not be immediately reached for comment.
The "Norfolk Four" were stationed at the Navy base in Norfolk, about 150 miles (240 km) south of Washington. Ten former state attorneys general, jurors in the case and dozens of former FBI agents and other law enforcement officers backed clemency for the four.
The case was featured on television and in magazines that include the New Yorker. Crime novelist John Grisham also wrote then-Virginia Governor Tim Kaine asking for clemency.
Kaine granted Williams, Dick and Tice conditional pardons in 2009, which kept their wrongful convictions in place, and they were freed from prison. Wilson had already been released.
Threatened with the death penalty, the men confessed after high-pressure interrogations. None of the four had a criminal record and no DNA or physical evidence tied them to the crime.
Wilson had been unable to have his claims of innocence heard by a court because of procedural issues. The full pardon was his only way to get relief from his conviction, the statement said.
U.S. District Judge John Gibney vacated Dick's and Williams' convictions in October 2016. The state dropped all charges against Tice after a federal appeals court ruling in the case in 2011.
The lead homicide detective on the case, Glenn Ford, was convicted in 2010 of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in unrelated cases. He is serving a 12-year federal prison sentence.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by James Dalgleish)