'Norfolk 4': Rape pardon brings relief, but pain lingers

Crime novelist John Grisham backed four men’s claims of innocence

By Alanna Durkin Richer
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Eric Wilson feels he always needs an alibi. He rarely leaves his wife’s side when not at work. He talks on the phone whenever he’s in his car to leave a record of his location.

One of four former sailors known as the “Norfolk Four,” Wilson was pardoned last week by Virginia’s governor for a rape he says he was bullied into admitting to 20 years ago. Cleared at last, he hopes the healing can begin.

But there are some things he’ll never get over, he says.

If he just could have proven he wasn’t in that Norfolk, Virginia, apartment in July 1997, he may not have falsely confessed to raping 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko. If he could have remembered where he really was that day, he wouldn’t have spent 7 ½ years in prison and more than a decade as a registered sex offender for something Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared he didn’t do, Wilson says.

“If I had had some kind of hard proof that proved I wasn’t there, this never would’ve happened,” Wilson, now 40, told The Associated Press as he drove from work to the home he shares with his wife and two children near San Antonio, Texas.

Pardons for the “Norfolk Four” closed a lengthy case that gained national attention after their innocence claims were backed by dozens of former FBI agents, ex-prosecutors and crime novelist John Grisham. The author once said he wanted to write a screenplay about the case.

Moore-Bosko’s husband found her stabbed and strangled body in their apartment in July 1997 after returning from a week at sea.

Danial Williams, who lived in the same building, was quickly identified as a suspect because a neighbor told police he had a crush on the victim. Williams admitted to her rape and murder — the first of a series of confessions that the men, then-sailors at the Naval base in Norfolk, say were forced by police.

DNA evidence matched only one person: Omar Ballard, the fifth man convicted in the case. Ballard, who pleaded guilty in 2000, acknowledged he was solely responsible and is serving a life sentence.

Williams, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice got courts to throw out their rape and murder convictions before McAuliffe formally declared them innocent this month. But Wilson, convicted of rape, had failed to persuade judges to do the same because of a technicality: He’d already completed his sentence.

So while out of prison since 2005, he hasn’t been free.

As a registered sex offender, he’s been limited from traveling and told to not even bother trying to adopting his stepson, he said. It took an attorney and $10,000 to convince a board to grant him an electrician’s license, he said. He’s been blocked from working on certain properties, such as schools, and barred from city parks.

His son was run out of his Cub Scout troop because other parents didn’t want Wilson around, he said.

“People have been very ugly,” said his wife, Misty Wilson.

Moore-Bosko’s family remain convinced the men are guilty. Her parents, John and Carol Moore, said in a statement that it’s hard to believe — after attending the trials and hearing the confessions — the four are innocent.

“We still believe that all of these men were involved in the murder of our daughter despite the ridiculous decision of the governor to grant them pardon,” the Moores said.

Wilson says he still has nightmares about the interrogation resulting in his false confession.

Hauled into a police station nearly a year after the slaying, he was asked where he was that day but couldn’t remember.

He recalls a detective shoving him into a corner and showing him a photo of Moore-Bosko’s bloody body. By the end, he began to question whether he was innocent, he said.

The other men have said they cracked after they were threatened with the death penalty and repeatedly called liars. The confessions conflicted with one another. Ballard’s account was the only one containing information matching the crime scene.

The detective who questioned them, Robert Glenn Ford, was convicted in 2011 of extortion and lying to the FBI in unrelated cases. He’s serving 12 ½ years in prison for taking thousands of dollars from drug dealers to get them favorable treatment at sentencing.

Wilson said he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and feels anxious in crowds, always looking over his shoulder.

“I don’t really go anywhere. I don’t talk to people,” Wilson said.

Steve Northup, Wilson’s attorney, said they plan to seek compensation for what he endured. Once his name is removed from the sex offender registry, Wilson said, he plans to adopt his stepson, get a passport, and maybe take his wife on a proper honeymoon.

“I’m just grateful that Virginia has finally admitting they’re wrong,” he said. “Now, the healing can begin for all of us.”