Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Mr. Tice is one of the “Norfolk 4,” a clutch of sailors accused of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. From the beginning, the evidence — or more accurately, the lack of it — pointed to their innocence.Although they were accused of brutally gang-raping and stabbing Ms. Moore-Bosko, none of the sailors’ DNA was found at the scene or on the victim. After denying involvement, all four confessed after lengthy and questionable interrogation sessions conducted by a detective who would later be convicted of corruption and bribery charges. The men’s stories continued to change, and their versions of events often contradicted each other and known facts gathered by investigators. For example, Mr. Tice asserted that one of the sailors used a claw hammer to break into the victim’s apartment; there was no evidence of forced entry. In 2000, a man named Omar A. Ballard, who was already in prison for another crime, confessed to the rape and murder and said he acted alone; the DNA found at the crime scene was a match for Mr. Ballard’s. But it would take another nine years before then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) granted the Norfolk 4 a conditional pardon. Although the move allowed the three sailors still incarcerated at the time to leave prison, it left intact their convictions. Among other things, the men were forced to register as sex offenders. Jobs were hard to come by under these circumstances, and even social visits were made difficult if friends or family lived near schools or playgrounds. Tice, it seems, has finally been exonerated. The others remain in limbo. There's a lot--a whole heck of a lot--to say about this case. For purposes of this blog, only one point is relevant: Can you imagine what the reaction of the U.S. military and federal government would have been had the prosecuting entity here been--instead of Virginia--say, Iraq or Afghanistan or some other foreign country? This is a case in which a local cop intimidated four U.S. servicemen into flasely confessing to a murder in which physical evidence implicated none of them. When someone else boasted of committing the crime--someone the physical evidence did, in fact, implicate--the local justice system ignored him and continued its oppression of men who seemed ever-more-obviously innocent. If this had happened abroad, the military would have protected its people. There would have been intensive diplomatic pressures--even had they been contractors, even had they been guilty of something. Yet at least to my knowledge, the federal government has never gotten involved in the matter in any significant way. Sure, sure. We live in a system of divided sovereignty. This was a Virginia crime, and Virginia has the sovereign right to ruin the lives of its people with an unusually bad criminal justice system. But I can't help thinking that of all the people who owed the Norfolk Four more than they got, one of them was the federal government that stationed them in Norfolk in the first place--and thus subjected them to the insanity they have suffered.