Unlikely Support for the Pardon of Convicted Sailors

By: Gerri L. Elder

The Norfolk Four are four Navy sailors who were convicted of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. These men are now receiving rare support from an unlikely source.

On November 10, 30 former FBI agents, including Jay Cochran, a former assistant director of the FBI, are calling for pardons of the Norfolk Four.

Cochran spoke on behalf of the former FBI agents at a news conference in Richmond, Virginia and urged Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to pardon the sailors. He said that the agents have carefully reviewed DNA and forensic evidence in the case and came to the conclusion that the Norfolk Four are, without any doubt, innocent.

The FBI agents argue that these men were wrongly convicted and should be immediately pardoned. They say that the evidence proves that a prison inmate – who has confessed that he acted alone in carrying out the rape and murder – is the guilty party.

The Norfolk Four are also supported by four former Virginia attorneys general, 12 former state and federal judges and prosecutors, and a past president of the Virginia Bar Association. All believe the men are innocent and have called for them to be pardoned.

Even jurors from two of the criminal trials now support the sailors and say they should be pardoned. The Associated Press reported that in January 2006, 13 jurors signed letters and affidavits stating that they now believe that the Norfolk Four are innocent.

When the four sailors were initially accused of the rape and murder, they confessed because they were threatened with the death penalty if they did not cooperate. Their confessions were inconsistent and did not match the evidence and the crime scene. All four men contradicted each other, further indicating that the confessions were not legitimate and were uttered under duress. After confessing, all four men quickly recanted.

Three of the four men are now serving life sentences in Virginia prisons. The fourth man served eight and a half years in prison for a rape conviction and was released in 2005.

Seven sailors were arrested for the rape and murder. After the arrests, Omar Ballard confessed that he had committed the crimes on his own. Ballard’s DNA was found at the crime scene, while no DNA matching any of the sailors who were arrested was found.

Ballard had a criminal history of violence against women in the neighborhood where Moore-Bosko lived. He was convicted of her rape and murder and two other sexual assaults in the neighborhood.

In a letter to the governor, 26 of the former FBI agents called for a pardon of the sailors, saying that the crime scene and forensic evidence proved that only one person, Ballard, sexually assaulted and murdered the victim.

Moore-Bosko and her husband were familiar with Ballard because two weeks before her death, they had opened the door of their apartment and allowed him to come inside when he was being chased by a crowd of men. The men were chasing Ballard because he had assaulted another woman.

Cochran stressed that the former FBI agents do not take their request for pardons lightly. However, the former agents fully believe that law enforcement has an obligation to protect innocent people from wrongful conviction.

The governor’s office is said to be reviewing the clemency petition.