Norfolk n’ Way

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

More than two-dozen retired FBI agents are asking Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to pardon and release the “Norfolk four,” four Navy sailors convicted of a 1997 rape and murder.

The evidence of the sailors’ innocence is pretty overwhelming. It includes the confession of a man who had ties to the victim, had a history of sexual abuse against women, and who was a match to DNA from the crime scene. None of the four sailors’ DNA matched that taken from the crime scene, nor did any other physical evidence.

So why were they convicted? False confessions. Prosecutors initially planned to try seven sailors, but ended up trying only four when the other three wouldn’t confess. One of the convicted served his sentence and has been released. The other three are serving life sentences. The cops apparently pulled a confession out of one sailor, then used that false confession and the threat of the death penalty to get false, conflicting confessions from three others.

People still seem to have a hard time believing that false confessions happen. If the cops in this case could elicit four of them from four enlisted Navy men, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine how they could get one from, say, a 13-year-old kid, or someone with a mental disability. The case is also another argument for videotaping police interrogations.

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14 Responses to “Norfolk n’ Way”

  1. #1 |  j.d | 

    bob&tom ftw

  2. #2 |  My 2 cents | 

    I was stationed down there when that happened, it was a pretty big deal.

    “People still seem to have a hard time believing that false convictions happen.”

    Most people I talk to (even those hard corps “law and order” types) will agree that false convictions happen. The big debates are over how often they happen, and once they happen how often they can be attributed to good faith mistakes (such as your blog post a few weeks ago quoting the police interrogator who realized he was feeding small details that were later picked up by the accused) versus incompetence versus willful misconduct and corruption.

    I would tend to believe that the split is probably 40/50/10, while police boosters might say 98/1/1 and somewhat more cynical people might say 1/1/98.

  3. #3 |  Mike Leatherwood | 

    After my experience with NCIS while serving in the Navy, I am utterly convinced that “justice” and “military” cannot and will not ever exist in the same sentence, much less than the same planet. This goes for military AND civilian courts. Just the implication of a military person doing something wrong is an automatic conviction, especially in areas that “have grown tired” of military presence.

  4. #4 |  Jeremy | 

    It leads one to suspect that the point of the justice system is not to find justice so much as to resolve disturbances in society… one way or another.

  5. #5 |  Ginger Dan | 


    That might be one of the best headlines you’ve ever written on this blog. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m giggling like no man should when he walks into the office.

    As far as those poor guys still sitting in jail, I’d say the chances of these cops (or any cops) admitting their mistakes are very, very slim.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    “People still seem to have a hard time believing that false convictions happen.”

    Yeah, but the number of believers is growing. Unfortunately, they’re in prison.

  7. #7 |  GregoryMac | 

    My experience in the army tells me that military cops are far worse than civillian cops (if thats possible). In their eyes admitting to a mistake is a treason.

  8. #8 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Yeah, the five guys convicted in the Central Park jogger case got a lot more press during the trial than they did after they were cleared of the charges (after serving time). How soon we forget.

    Prosecutors don’t get brownie points for letting people go. The object is to get a conviction. That’s the way the system is set up.

  9. #9 |  John Jenkins | 

    It seems odd that nowhere in that article does it mention that the convicted sailors have repudiated their confessions (one of them tried to withdraw his plea of guilty, though). Maybe the Va. state prison system doesn’t allow interviews?

    This is odd too:

    “Above all, the police found no physical evidence tying the four sailors, a least one of whom lived in Ms. Moore-Bosko’s neighborhood, to the murder scene.”

    That’s not really an “above all” moment. Lots of convictions are rightly obtained in the absence of physical evidence.

    It seems the “above all” moment is that (a) there was physical evidence connecting someone else to the crime; and (b) there is evidence indicating that person acted alone.

  10. #10 |  Lori Wilson | 

    Actually, all of them repudiated their confessions almost as soon as they made them. It didn’t matter, they were convicted solely on the basis of those confessions. The fact that the confessions did not match, and in fact contradicted each other, was never brought up because all four men were tried separately.

  11. #11 |  SusanK | 

    We just had our first DNA/false confessions exoneration in Nebraska. It was interesting to watch public opinion go from “people don’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit” to “that prosecutor needs to be in jail for this” (we always want a pound of flesh here). Our opportunistic attorney general is even supporting these six people:

  12. #12 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Most people I talk to (even those hard corps “law and order” types) will agree that false convictions happen.

    Unfortunately, what’s most important is that juries agree that false confessions happen and it seems that there’s still a lot of progress to be made in that area. Actually, on the whole, I found during my one summer working at Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions that lots of the cases we were working on involved convictions based mainly on juries feeling that a certain behavior by the defendant “just doesn’t seem right,” whether it be a wrongful confession or not acting the way a victim’s relative “should” in the wake of a crime.

  13. #13 |  Andrew | 

    One more reason that people should NEVER EVER talk to cops!

    Never allow yourself to be interrogated – oh excuse me – interviewed. Never never never. No way it’s ever going to help you even if you’re innocent.

  14. #14 |  Pat | 

    I’m sure you saw this article, but if not:

    The case for videotaping interrogations
    A suspect’s false confession to a murder opened an officer’s eyes.,0,7918545.story