RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a former sailor’s bid to clear his name in the high-profile “Norfolk Four” case.
Eric C. Wilson of Jourdanton, Texas, is one of the four ex-sailors who said police intimidated them into falsely confessing to a 1997 rape and slaying. In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine freed the other three men from prison but allowed their convictions to remain. Wilson, who was convicted only of rape, had been released from prison in 2005 and wasn’t eligible for the conditional pardon.
Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that Wilson could return to court to challenge his conviction only if he remained in custody. Wilson said restraints placed on him by the Virginia and Texas sex offender registration laws amount to custody, but an appeals panel rejected that argument in a 2-1 ruling.
Without comment, the Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
“Everybody who knows anything about the case knows he’s innocent, yet we don’t have a way through the courts to get the conviction vacated,” said Stephen A. Northup, one of Wilson’s attorneys. “We’re not going to give up, but I don’t know at this point what we’re going to do. We’re going to stay with him until we can get him completely exonerated, which is the only just outcome.”
The Virginia attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.
In its ruling last August, the appeals panel’s majority acknowledged that Wilson has a compelling case of innocence but said sex-offender registration requirements are simply “collateral consequences” of his conviction — not custody. The majority suggested Wilson could pursue other avenues in state court.
Judge James A. Wynn wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court had “a moral imperative” to grant Wilson a hearing.
The Norfolk Four drew national attention when their innocence claims were backed by dozens of former FBI agents, ex-prosecutors and novelist John Grisham.
DNA evidence excluded the four and implicated a fifth man, Omar Ballard, who admitted that he alone raped and killed 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk.
Only one of the four, Derek Tice, has managed to be completely cleared by the courts. Efforts continue on behalf of the others.
Robert Glenn Ford, the detective who extracted confessions from the four, was later convicted in an unrelated case of extortion and lying to the FBI. He was sentenced to 12½ years in prison.