RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation to provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation to the “Norfolk Four,” the U.S. Navy sailors who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a 1997 rape and murder.
Northam last week signed identical House and Senate bills to compensate Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Derek Tice and Eric Wilson, who were wrongly convicted in 1999 of raping and killing 18-year-old Michelle Bosko.
Under the legislation, Williams will receive $895,299; Dick, $875,845; Wilson, $866,456; and Tice, $858,704.
On Thursday, Northam signed the measures containing the compensation package - Senate Bill 772, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and House Bill 762, proposed by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.
The legislation notes that the “Norfolk Four” defendants “spent nearly four decades in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, and another collective 30 years after release from prison under highly restrictive parole and sex offender registry conditions that imposed onerous barriers to their reentry to society.”
The four men were “imprisoned and experienced assaults and other horrific experiences during the imprisonment that irreparably broke them in a manner that no time or money will ever fix,” according to the legislation.
The defendants were convicted because of their coerced confessions, even though the real rapist and murderer, Omar Ballard, confessed in 1999 to committing the crime alone and his DNA was found at the crime scene, bills state.
Ballard is currently an inmate at Sussex II State Prison and serving two life terms plus 42 years for capital murder, two rapes, two counts of malicious wounding, and abduction.
In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice. That action ended their sentences, but the men remained on the sex offender registry. Wilson had already been released from prison in 2005 after serving more than eight years behind bars.
A decade after their convictions, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the convictions of Dick and Williams.
“Considering the evolution of their admissions, their subsequent recantation and the other physical evidence, the admissions of guilt by Williams, Dick and Tice are far from convincing,” Gibney’s decision stated. “Any reasonable juror considering all of the evidence would harbor reasonable doubt as to whether Williams, Dick, or anyone else, was with Ballard in Bosko’s apartment.”
In March 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted the “Norfolk Four” unconditional pardons, fully restoring their civil rights. However, the legislation signed by Northam states that “all four men have struggled to rebuild their lives and have lived vastly reduced lives due to the strong stigma of their wrongful convictions.”
This story was produced by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.