Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Norfolk Four: Virginia; Eric Wilson; Danial Williams; Joseph Dick; Derek Tice: A fascinating read: John E. Reid & Associates asks, "Why did the Norfolk Four confess?" in an 'Investigative Tip' published following the explosive 2010 Frontline exposé of police interrogation tactics used in the investigation.

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: In light of Virginia  Governor Terry McAuliffe's recent grant of absolute pardons to the former sailors known as the 'Norfolk Four' I was intrigued to find an educational  'Investigative Tip' published by John E. Reid & Associates after broadcast of an  explosive PBS Frontline documentary in 1910. Reid concludes:  "The lesson from the Norfolk Four is clear: threatening a suspect with inevitable consequences  (the death penalty) has no place in a properly conducted interrogation." That's a no-brainer to me. From a perspective of what we know about the causes of false confessions in 2017, I disagree with the place where Reid  draws the line on permissable interrogation tactics when he writes: "Why did the Norfolk Four confess? These suspects were adults suffering from no diminished mental capacity and were not deprived of basic biological needs. The length of the interrogations (8-11 hours) were substantial, but not so long as to automatically cause a false confession. This is especially true considering that, reportedly, more than an hour was spent in prepping the suspects to give an audio-taped confession that was consistent with the current police theory. Lying to a suspect about failing a polygraph examination certainly would not cause an innocent suspect to confess. While the interrogator was described as intense, tenacious and unrelenting this, in and of itself, would not be apt to cause an innocent person to confess." That's my view. Why not read the entire 'Investigative' at the link below and send me your comments at

Harold Levy; Publisher. The Charles Smith Blog.

INVESTIGATOR TIP: "The Danger of Threatening Inevitable Consequences During an Interrogation," published by  John E. Reid & Associates, in March/April 2011;

CREDIT AND PERMISSION STATEMENT: "Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 /" Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Janet Finnerty"

GIST: (This statement runs unedited in its entirety); "A recent Frontline episode dealt with interrogation techniques and false confessions.1 The presented case involved the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Bosko from Norfolk, VA. The following is a synopsis of facts as reported by Frontline: The victim's husband, who was a sailor in the navy, discovered her body and sought help from the next door neighbor, a fellow sailor named Daniel Williams, who then contacted the police. While the husband had an air-tight alibi, suspicion focused on Williams. Therefore, they asked him to come to the station for a voluntary interview which eventually turned into an 11 hour interrogation. During the interrogation, Williams was administered a polygraph examination which he was falsely told indicated deception. After being threatened with the death penalty, Williams confessed to the rape and murder to avoid execution. In his initial confession he stated that he struck the victim with a shoe and beat her to death. Following the autopsy it was determined that the victim died from stab wounds and strangulation. Williams was re-interrogated and, after the detective revealed the victim's actual cause of death, gave a second confession consistent with the autopsy findings. Four months later, the crime lab determined that Williams' DNA did not match crime scene evidence. Rather than doubt the integrity of Williams' confession, the police were convinced that there must have been another perpetrator. Williams was again interrogated and threatened with the death penalty if he did not name his accomplice. He named Joseph Dick Jr., a fellow sailor who was given a polygraph examination which he purportedly failed, and threatened with the death penalty if he continued to lie. Believing that he would be exonerated based on DNA evidence, Dick confessed to helping Williams rape and murder Michelle Bosko. When the DNA analysis came back negative, Dick thought charges against him would be dropped. Instead, the investigator was convinced that there must have been a third person involved in the crime. By this time Dick was represented by council who was convinced, based on Dick's confession, that his client must be guilty. The defense attorney recommended that Dick cooperate with the police to avoid the death penalty. Dick provided the name of another accomplice, Derek Tice, who was subjected to lengthy interrogations (after his request for an attorney was ignored) and threatened with the death penalty. Like the others, Tice confessed. However, the crime scene DNA did not match Tice so he was re-interrogated to find out who else was involved in the crime. Tice selected the photo of a sailor named Eric Wilson who also was persuaded to confess, but whose DNA also did not match the crime scene. This cycle was repeated until eventually seven sailors were named as being involved in the murder of Michelle Bosko. Despite the fact that none of the seven defendants' DNA matched crime scene evidence, all were charged with the rape and murder. During the course of the trials, Dick backed out of a plea bargain, and refused to offer testimony against the latter three defendants. Because his confession and testimony was the only evidence implicating these defendants, charges against them were dropped. Before the first of the four remaining trials began, a woman approached the police with a letter she received from an inmate named Omar Ballard. Ballard was serving time for beating a woman in the same apartment complex where Michelle Bosko lived, and raping a 14-year-old girl two miles from Bosko's apartment complex. In the letter, Ballard confessed to killing Michelle Bosko. Ballard was questioned by police and, in a short period of time, confessed that he alone raped and murdered Ms. Bosko. Ballard's DNA matched the crime scene DNA. The prosecution had to either acknowledge that the police obtained four false confessions or somehow attempt to reconcile all of the evidence, which is the path they chose. The theory presented at trial was that the seven sailors wanted to rape and murder Ms. Bosko but couldn't get into her apartment so they approached a stranger, Omar Ballard who agreed to get them into her apartment and commit the crime with them. As part of a plea agreement Joe Dick testified against Eric Wilson and Derek Tice, both of whom were found guilty and sentenced to 81/2 years and life in prison respectfully. After realizing the futility of persuading a jury that their confessions were false, Williams and Dick both plead guilty and received life sentences. In 2007, after reviewing legal appeals, the Virginia Governor granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice (Wilson had already been paroled). A team of attorneys is still working to clear the names of what the media has called the "Norfolk Four." If the information presented by Frontline is accurate, certainly there is a high probability that these four confessions are false. Why did the Norfolk Four confess? These suspects were adults suffering from no diminished mental capacity and were not deprived of basic biological needs. The length of the interrogations (8-11 hours) were substantial, but not so long as to automatically cause a false confession. This is especially true considering that, reportedly, more than an hour was spent in prepping the suspects to give an audio-taped confession that was consistent with the current police theory. Lying to a suspect about failing a polygraph examination certainly would not cause an innocent suspect to confess. While the interrogator was described as intense, tenacious and unrelenting this, in and of itself, would not be apt to cause an innocent person to confess. The other tactic common to each interrogation was that these four suspects were threatened with an inevitable consequence -- each of these suspects reported that he confessed to avoid the death penalty. The standard rule of thumb relating to improper interrogation techniques is that the investigator should not offer the suspect any threats or promises. In this context, threats are often thought of as threats of physical harm, isolation or deprivation of biological needs. There is, however, a much more powerful threat that can be made during an interrogation -- threatening the suspect with inevitable consequences. These four suspects were offered the most potent threat possible - the threat of death i.e., "If you continue to lie about this you will die. Do you want to die? That's what will happen if you continue to tell me you didn't do this". This was then coupled with the promise of life, i.e.., "I can help you out on this thing. If you tell me the truth I will work it out so you will not face the death penalty. You will be able to live." Who in their right mind wouldn't accept life over death? When an innocent suspect is convinced that he is helpless to avoid consequences of a crime (a long prison sentence, having children placed in foster homes, being deported to a foreign country, having a license or certificate revoked, etc.) this suspect will do anything in an effort to reduce those perceived consequences. As illustrated by this case, when threatened with inevitable consequences, innocent suspects will not only confess, but adjust their confession to please the interrogator (Dick offered seven different statements) and testify against defendants the suspect knows are innocent. Concepts within the Reid Technique have been criticized under the guise of threatening inevitable consequences. Specifically, interrogating a suspect on the presumption of guilt, discouraging denials from surfacing and the use of an alternative question, e.g., "Did you plan this out for months in advance, or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?" These criticisms are baseless. Expressing high confidence in a person's guilt certainly would not motivate an innocent person to believe that it would be in his best interest to falsely confess. Rather, the innocent person would be motivated to more strongly maintain his innocence or terminate the interrogation. Similarly, discouraging a suspect from voicing denials will cause the typical innocent suspect to become more forceful in their denials or terminate the interrogation, not to believe that because the interrogator is not accepting their denial that it would somehow be in their best interest to confess. Finally, it has been argued that the alternative question forces the innocent suspect to incriminate himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. A suspect always has a third choice which is to reject the alternative question and maintain his innocence. None of the tactics or techniques within the Reid Technique would cause an innocent person to believe that they would benefit by offering a false confession. However, this is not the case when a suspect is threatened with inevitable consequences, which is why we are adamantly opposed to this interrogation tactic. The case involving the Norfolk Four was rife with failures within the criminal justice system. The police department was negligent in allowing the detective, who had a reputation for unethical practices, to conduct these interrogations. The detective was eventually convicted of multiple counts of extortion and lying to federal law enforcement agents. The prosecutor stubbornly refused to acknowledge that four uncorroborated confessions were probably false. A defense attorney failed to challenge a confession his client claimed was false because of coercion. The prosecution's primary case was built on confessions and testimony from individuals who were motivated to avoid the death penalty. Interestingly, when the prosecutor offered Ballard a deal to avoid the death penalty if he testified that the other four defendants committed the crime with him, he refused. The lesson from the Norfolk Four is clear: threatening a suspect with inevitable consequences has no place in a properly conducted interrogation.'

The entire 'Investigation Tip' can be found at:

See previous post for the PBS Outfront introduction to the 2010 documentary, at the site below; "Eight men charged. Five confessions. But only one DNA match. Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit? In The Confessions, FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel (Innocence Lost, An Ordinary Crime) investigates the conviction of four men -- current and former sailors in the U.S. Navy -- for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In the first television interviews with the "Norfolk Four" since their release, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, intimidation -- that led each of the men to confess, despite the lack of any evidence linking them to the crime. Twenty-five-year-old Danial Williams, married for 11 days, was the first to be arrested for the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko. He tells FRONTLINE how he came to confess after 11 hours of interrogation: "Being in a small room, and you have a person sitting over across the table from you that's getting in your face, yelling at you, calling you a liar, poking you in the chest with their finger, and then turns around and says, 'Well, I can help you if you tell me the truth,'" Williams explains. "It went on and on and on throughout the night, with them calling me a liar, telling me I needed to tell the truth. And I kept telling them: 'I am telling you the truth. I didn't do it.' I kept telling them over and over. ... I should have stood my ground." Instead, Williams gave the Norfolk police detectives a confession. And when that confession proved inconsistent with the forensic evidence, detectives went back to him for an additional confession that better fit the facts. And Williams, once again, gave it to them. He got a court-appointed lawyer. "No one in Virginia believes that you confess to a murder you didn't commit; no one believes it," says Danny Shipley, Williams' attorney. "And to be quite frank with you, when you approach a case, ... [the death penalty] changes everything. All your decisions that you make are guided by the fact that, if you make the wrong decision, you make the wrong call, your client is dead." Williams' DNA failed to match the DNA at the crime scene, but that didn't save him. Police picked up Williams' roommate, Joe Dick, and began another interrogation. "They started asking me where I was when this happened, and I told them that I was on the ship," Dick said. But Dick's interrogation was conducted by one of Norfolk's most formidable detectives, Robert Glenn Ford, who had a reputation for getting confessions. "Ford's saying I'm lying," Dick tells FRONTLINE. "He's starting to get ticked off. He's raising his voice. He keeps coming back with: 'We know you were there. We can prove you were there. You can get the death penalty.' I kept denying it. We went and did a polygraph. He comes back with the results, and he says I'm still lying, that I failed the polygraph. ... Eventually I'd had enough of him, and I just wanted to tell him anything to get him off my back and to shut him up. I was tired; emotionally, mentally worn down." He gave a confession. Then, confused by police theories and interrogations, Dick started to believe in his own guilt. He implicated another sailor, Eric Wilson, who also confessed. In the end, four men would confess to the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko and another three would be arrested before an eighth man, a convicted rapist named Omar Ballard, was found to be the only DNA match for the Bosko murder. Ballard confessed to the rape and murder of Michelle Bosko, and said that he did it alone -- a statement that fit the forensic facts. But with seven other people already in jail, the police and prosecution refused to change course. Instead, they presented a new theory of the crime in which Ballard met the group outside, and all eight men committed gang rape and murder. From an initial theory of one assailant, namely Danial Williams, the prosecution theory now involved eight, including Ballard. In a recent interview from prison, Ballard tells FRONTLINE that police pressured him to say the other men participated in the crime with him, a statement that he says was not true. "It was made clear from the jump that unless I said somebody else was with me, that it wasn't going to be the truth," Ballard says. "The only truth they wanted to hear [was] that I did it with someone else." "Even when there's other evidence of innocence, the confession overrides that evidence. People ignore, jurors ignore that evidence," says law professor Richard Leo, who has studied false confessions. "If they were rational, objective, fair-minded police and prosecutors, they would have let everybody else go. But they couldn't admit what was so obvious: [that] they made a mistake, a big mistake. Four people had been interrogated coercively, confessed to a crime they didn't commit, and instead of acknowledging that mistake and these individuals' innocence, they tried to link Omar Ballard to these individuals. They tried to make it a group crime." All four sailors are now out of prison -- one served his sentence, and the other three were granted conditional pardons last summer, after some 11 years in prison. But the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders. "I basically built myself a new cell, my bedroom, ... because that's where I'm safe," Derek Tice, another of the Norfolk Four, tells FRONTLINE. "All I did was trade one cell for another." Earlier this summer, Detective Glenn Ford was indicted for extorting money from defendants in exchange for getting them a favorable treatment. He was tried in U.S. District Court in Norfolk and took the stand in his own defense. On Oct. 27, 2010 Ford was found guilty on two of four extortion charges and one charge of lying to the FBI. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2011."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;