When four members of the US Navy were found guilty and convicted of gang-raping and murdering a woman, they knew they were looking at life behind bars as a result of their actions. The men sat in jail for many years although felt lucky to have avoided the death penalty.
Derek Tice, Danial Williams, Joseph J. Dick Jr., and Eric C. Wilson came to be known as the ‘Norfolk Four,’ but they always passionately professed their innocence. They claimed they had been coerced with threats of the death penalty if they failed to plead guilty to the charges and resigned themselves to a lifetime in prison…
When Bill Bosko returned home on a hot summer’s day in July following a military assignment, he was shocked to find his wife Michelle’s dead body in their home. While there were no signs of forced entry or a struggle inside the apartment, Michelle Bosko was dead, having been raped, stabbed and strangled.
Detective Robert Glenn Ford, who headed up the investigation into the murder, questioned residents from the development where the Boskos lived. He was told by a woman called Tamika that another neighbor there, Danial Williams, was obsessed with Michelle. Williams lived close by with his wife, and roommate Joe Dick. Both men admitted to the crime when questioned by Ford but their stories conflicted, and there were too many discrepancies to believe them.
For a start, Williams claimed that he acted alone, while Dick claimed he had committed the murder together with his friend. Dick also claimed the rape and murder took place between 9 pm and 11 pm, but that made no sense as Michelle hadn’t arrived home until 11:30 pm that night. Naval logs also showed that Dick was on duty on a ship at the time of the murder. Something was fishy here, and Detective Ford wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Dick’s Chief Petty Officer told Ford that he had taken “special interest” in Dick who he viewed as a person with “diminished mental capacity” according to a Mail Online report. According to the officer, it would have been “virtually impossible for Dick to sneak off, commit the crime and sneak back on board.” But the men’s accounts of the attack on Michelle were inconsistent with the physical evidence.
On top of the conflicting accounts, DNA found at the scene didn’t match Williams or Dick. At that point, Dick named Eric Wilson as the man who committed the crime, but his DNA wasn’t found in the apartment either. Dick named a fourth man, Derek Tice, who confessed to the rape and murder, implicating three other men. That group of four would come to be known as the “Norfolk Four.”
The cops had their work cut out for them, and while they had a bunch of highly suspicious people to question, they had so many conflicting stories and confessions, they weren’t sure who to believe. Tice claimed that he broke into the apartment, but evidence showed no forced entry at the time. When Tice’s DNA was not found at the scene, three other men were named by Dick, but they all had rock solid alibis.
Another point of contention for the detectives was the fact that the victim was stabbed uniformly with all the stab wounds being clustered closely together. That would suggest one murderer and not multiple killers. The prosecution had claimed that different men took turns stabbing Michelle, but that assertion was also inconsistent.
When the bizarre case came to court, three of the four men were ultimately found guilty and given life sentences without the possibility of parole. Wilson was convicted of rape but not murder and was sentenced to eight years in prison. But there was a fifth man on the scene who was also found guilty and sentenced.
Omar Ballard was also convicted of the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko and was given a 100-year sentence. He is the only person whose DNA was found at the scene of the crime, and he even confessed that he had acted alone. Forensic evidence was consistent with his version of events, but the other men were convicted in any event.
Ballard had already pleaded guilty to raping a fourteen-year-old girl and was known to be a man who was violent against women. He even sent a letter to a friend at the time where he admitted openly to killing Bosko, claiming he acted alone. Ballard’s description of the murder following his arrest was completely consistent with the physical and forensic evidence the police had.
Ballard told the detectives that he acted alone and that the other four men had nothing to do with the crime. The police pressured him to implicate the other men, but he refused to, saying, “those four who opened their mouths were stupid.” The police claimed Ballard was lying and didn’t want to “snitch” on the other men, but he refuted that allegation.
In 2000, Williams appealed his verdict but was denied his appeal. In 2002, Tice’s conviction was reversed by the Virginia Court of Appeals because Judge Poston had not allowed Tice’s attorney to question Ballard about his written confession. Despite the appeal, Tice was once again sentenced to life.
In 2006, a circuit court overturned Tice’s conviction on constitutional grounds, even though that conviction was reinstated by the Virginia Supreme Court later. Tice then filed a petition for habeas corpus with a United States District Court, and a few years later, US District Judge Richard L. Williams vacated Tice’s murder and rape convictions. Tice would wait another two years before he was released from jail.
Detective Ford was found guilty in the mishandling of this case and indicted. He also had a record of taking money from criminal suspects in return for favorable treatment on more than one occasion. This resulted in lawyers asking for full exoneration for the Norfolk Four due to shady police work. It was clear all these years later that the men had given forced confessions and justice now needed to be served.
In 2017, the so-called Norfolk Four were granted absolute pardons by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. At the time, the governor said to reporters, “These pardons close the final chapter on a grave injustice that has plagued these four men for nearly 20 years. While former Governor Kaine had initially granted conditional pardons in the case, more exculpatory information discovered since then and detailed by Judge John Gibney during exhaustive evidentiary proceedings indicate that absolute pardons are appropriate.”
More recently, the City of Norfolk agreed to a $4.9 million settlement in compensation for the wrongly accused men. As Tony Troy, an attorney for one of the men said, “These guys can now put all this behind them and try to recoup their lives.” But more money is also due to these men due to new legislation.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved legislation earlier this year which will give the wrongly convicted men an additional $3.5 million in state funds contingent on them resolving claims against the city. Another Senator, Scott Surovell, said he was pleased the city saw sense on this matter and chose not to fight the case further.
Sen. Surovell told the press, “Justice was long overdue for these four, what happened to them was outrageous and undermines faith in our criminal justice system,” he said. “Hopefully this settlement will help ensure this never happens again.” But others said the city’s large payout was very “generous.”
Wilson’s attorney, Steve Northup, said that he was pleased with the city’s payout to his client. “It doesn’t restore the 20 years of his life that Eric lost,” he said. “But nevertheless it helps and we’re pleased, and our clients are pleased with the compensation we were able to secure for them.”
Having been wrongly accused and convicted, the Norfolk Four languished in jail cells for years even though they never committed the crimes they were accused of. All four men are now looking at fresh starts and to rebuild their lives as best they can. The fact that they won’t need to worry about money due to the large compensation payouts they received goes some way to righting a wrong that should never have happened.