Wednesday, December 11, 2019

False confessions: (Norfolk Four - Central Park Five): Watch here: Superb PBS Frontline 2010 documentary 'False Confessions' (very relevant today. HL) - with focus on The Norfolk Four ..."How could four men confess to a brutal crime that they didn't commit? Inside the incredible saga of the Norfolk Four -- a case that cracks open the justice system to reveal almost everything that goes wrong when innocent people get convicted." (The website for the program (at the link below) is phenomenal - replete with interviews, updates, what people don't know, and studies and readings on false confessions and interrogations. A virtual course in false confessions. HL).

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This Blog is interested in false confessions because of the disturbing number of exonerations in the USA, Canada and multiple other jurisdictions throughout the world, where, in the absence of incriminating forensic evidence the conviction is based on self-incrimination – and because of the growing body of  scientific research showing how vulnerable suspects   are to widely used interrogation methods  such as  the notorious ‘Reid Technique.’"
Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog:


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: For a powerful double-bill, move up in time to May 31, 2019,  when, as Wikipedia notes, "When They See Us, a four-episode miniseries, was released on Netflix. Ava DuVernay co-wrote and directed the drama. Per Netflix: "Five teens from Harlem become trapped in a nightmare when they're falsely accused of a brutal attack in Central Park." The Norfolk Four and Central Park Five: Two tragedies of tainted confessions, criminal justice systems run amuck, and lives ruined. Two extremely important cases. Two extremely important documentaries. HL.

"When they see us," Netflix homepage. (Offline access provided);


INTRODUCTION: "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."

The entire site - with link to the full program - can be accessed at:

  Michael Shaffer and Maurice Possley
Read the entire Registry of Exonerations entry  by Michael Shaffer and Maurice Possle  at the link below:
The Crime and Investigation

Eighteen-year-old Michelle Bosko was raped and murdered in her apartment in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 7, 1997. Her husband, a sailor returning from duty at sea, found her body the next day.

The police investigation focused immediately on 25-year-old Danial Williams, a sailor in the U.S. Navy with no criminal record who lived in the same apartment complex with his wife and another sailor, 20-year-old Joseph Dick, Jr. The police heard that Williams had an unhealthy fixation on Michelle Bosko and interrogated him at length. Williams initially protested his innocence, but on July 9, 1997, after being told that he had flunked a polygraph examination, he confessed to Detective Robert Glenn Ford that he had committed the crime.

Despite the fact that many of the details of Williams’s confession were at odds with the crime scene (for example: Bosko was stabbed, but Williams initially stated that he had killed her by striking her with a shoe), Williams was arrested and charged with the crime. At that time, the police believed that Williams acted alone. They did not see anything at the crime scene that made them believe that more than one person had been involved.

Five months later, in December 1997, the Virginia forensic laboratory revealed that sperm, blood and other genetic material from the crime scene did not match Williams’s DNA. Norfolk investigators then interrogated Dick, who initially protested his innocence. On January 12, 1998, after being told that he had flunked a polygraph examination, Dick also confessed to Detective Ford and said he had committed the crime with Williams. Dick had no criminal record and many details of his confession also varied from the crime scene and from the details of Williams’s earlier statements. Dick was arrested and charged with the capital murder and rape.

Further testing by the state laboratory, however, revealed in March 1998 that Dick’s DNA did not match the crime scene evidence either.

The police then placed an informant in Dick’s jail cell, and the informant got information about another sailor, 21-year-old Eric Wilson. Wilson, like the other two, had no criminal record. He was interrogated and protested his innocence. However, after being told that he had flunked a polygraph examination, Wilson confessed to Detective Ford that he had acted with Williams and Dick. Many of the details of Wilson’s confession again did not match up with either the crime scene or the confessions given by William and Dick.

And once again, the crime lab determined that Wilson's DNA did not match the crime scene evidence. The police then re-interviewed Dick who provided descriptions of former sailors whom he claimed were involved in the crime, in addition to himself, Williams and Wilson.

One of those was 27-year-old Derek Tice, a former sailor who had left the Navy and moved to Florida. Like Williams, Dick, and Wilson, Tice had no criminal record. In June 1998, Tice was brought back to Virginia and interrogated. He protested his innocence, was told that he had flunked a polygraph examination, and eventually confessed to Ford that he had committed the crime. In his confession, he named the three suspects who had already been arrested and also said that Geoffrey Farris and Richard Pauley had been involved. Farris and Pauley were both arrested and jailed for many months, but they maintained their innocence and were eventually released.

Tice’s confession, like those of the others before him, was at odds with many of the details about the crime scene and conflicted with the confessions of Williams, Dick and Wilson. As with the earlier suspects, the state forensics lab confirmed, in August 1998, more than one year after the crime, that the crime-scene DNA did not match Tice, Farris or Pauley.

The police re-interviewed Tice and Dick several more times, and the two eventually named four more men, including John Danser. Tice also stated that a black man was involved and described him as muscular and 5’9” to 5’10” in height. Tice explained that he had never mentioned this man before because they were all scared of him. Dick also told the police and his defense attorney that a black man was involved in the attack. John Danser was arrested and released because he had a conclusive alibi and his DNA did not match the crime scene evidence.

The investigation then stalled. At that point, there were seven people in jail for the crime. Four of the men had confessed, but the physical evidence did not match the DNA of any of the jailed suspects.
Omar Ballard's Confession

In February 1999, nineteen months after the crime, a woman walked into the Norfolk Police Department with a letter written to her daughter by a prisoner named Omar Ballard. At the time of the letter, Ballard was in prison for two crimes. About two weeks before Bosko’s murder, Ballard and another man had attacked a young woman with a baseball bat at the same apartment complex where Bosko was killed. Ballard had sought refuge in Bosko’s apartment right after that attack, to hide from an angry mob of residents who tried to apprehend him. Within a few weeks after the Bosko murder, Ballard also raped and strangled a 14-year-old girl at knifepoint about one mile from Bosko's apartment.

In the letter he wrote from prison, sent to threaten a former girlfriend, Ballard bragged that he had killed Michelle Bosko. The Norfolk police visited Ballard in prison in March 1999, but he would not discuss the crime. He did, however, provide physical evidence to compare to the crime scene evidence. That analysis revealed that his DNA matched the DNA of the blood and semen found at the crime scene.

Ford then interviewed Ballard, who quickly confessed. Ballard, however, said that he acted alone. His description of the crime scene was consistent with the known details of the crime, even though it had happened nearly two years earlier. In March of 2000, Ballard pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ballard avoided the death penalty by making a deal with the prosecution: he agreed to say that he committed the crime with the four sailors police had already charged. As part of a plea agreement, he was interrogated again and, for the first time, claimed that he had met Williams, Dick, Wilson and Tice in the apartment parking lot and had committed the crime with them.
Guilty Pleas, Trials and Convictions

Williams, Dick, Wilson, and Tice were each convicted in separate proceedings. Danial Williams pled guilty to rape and murder on January 22, 1999, despite the knowledge that lab results had shown that his DNA did not match any evidence from the crime scene. He signed a plea agreement that said he had committed the crime with Dick, Wilson, Tice, Pauley, Farris and Danser. After he became aware of Ballard’s confession, he sought to withdraw his guilty plea, but in April 1999 that motion was denied and Williams was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Joseph Dick pled guilty on April 21, 1999. Dick knew when he pled guilty that Ballard had confessed to committing the crime alone. At a hearing in June, the prosecutor asked Dick why he had confessed. He replied, “Because I have a conscience. My conscience was bothering me and it was the right thing to do.” At his final sentencing hearing in September 1999, Dick personally apologized to Michelle Bosko’s family, repeatedly expressing remorse for what he had done. Dick had earlier written a letter to Nicole Williams, Danial William’s wife, where he admitted to the crime, but stated that others were more culpable; however, the letter was never sent. Dick was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In May 1999, the prosecutor dismissed the charges against Danser, Farris, and Pauley.

Eric Wilson pled not guilty and was tried by a jury in June 1999. Joseph Dick testified for the prosecution that he, Williams, Wilson, Tice, Pauley, Farris and Danser had all gathered at Williams’s apartment and then tried to enter Michelle Bosko’s apartment. When they were rebuffed, they went to the parking lot, and ran into Ballard. Ballard then he led them back to the apartment where they committed the crime. Wilson’s recorded confession was played to the jury, but he took the stand and testified that he had not committed any crime. The jury also heard that Ballard’s DNA had been found in the victim and that there was no DNA or other physical evidence connecting Wilson to the scene. On June 21, 1999, the jury acquitted Wilson of murder, but convicted him of rape. He was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison. His appeals were denied.

Derek Tice pled not guilty and was tried in February 2000. The trial was moved from Norfolk to Arlington because of the overwhelming publicity about the case in the Norfolk area. Once again, Dick was the principal witness for the prosecution, testifying about Tice’s involvement in the alleged eight-man conspiracy. Tice’s confession to the police was played. One section of it, where Tice stated, “I looked at Danial [Williams] and told him ‘just stab the bitch,’” made a particularly strong impression on the jury.

The defense called Ballard as a witness. He denied any involvement, but could not explain how his DNA ended up at the crime scene. The jury found Tice guilty of capital murder and rape. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On March 22, 2000, Ballard pled guilty to rape and murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Appeals, A Retrial and Pardons

Tice’s conviction was overturned by the Virginia Court of Appeals in May 2002 because of an improperly worded jury instruction and suppression of testimony about the letter Ballard wrote confessing that he killed Bosko. Tice was retried in Alexandria in January 2003. A jury again found Tice guilty of capital murder and rape and he was again sentenced to life in prison without parole. His second conviction was upheld on appeal.

In 2006, nine former jurors who convicted Eric Wilson, along with former FBI agents, judges, and prosecutors from around the country, sent letters to Governor Mark Warner urging him to grant clemency petitions filed by Williams, Wilson, Tice, and Dick. By then, Ballard had repeatedly admitted that he acted alone in the rape and murder. Dick had recanted his trial testimony against Wilson and Tice.

The governor, however, did not act on the letters or petitions.

Wilson was released in September 2005, but Williams, Dick and Tice remained in prison. Finally, on August 6, 2009, Governor Timothy M. Kaine granted “conditional pardons” to Danial Williams, Derek Tice and Joseph Dick. The conditional pardons provided that the sentences for all three men were reduced to time served and that they were released from prison, but they remained on parole and were required to register as sex offenders.

On September 14, 2009, Judge Richard L. Williams of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted Tice’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, finding that Tice’s trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to move to suppress his confession. Judge Williams found that the failure to move for suppression was unreasonable given the presence of a note in a police file, which was turned over to the defense, in which a detective recorded that Tice “[T]old me he decided not to say any more,” an apparently clear invocation of his right to remain silent. Ford nevertheless resumed interrogation just 13 minutes after Tice asserted his right to remain silent and subsequently obtained Tice’s first confession.

In the wake of the conditional pardons and appeals, producers of the PBS Frontline series began looking at the case as the subject of a documentary. The resulting Frontline episode, “The Confessions,” aired in November 2010. When Frontline producers interviewed Ballard, he admitted that he falsely accused Tice, Williams, Wilson, and Dick after he was pressured by police. Ballard said that Detective Ford told him that he would not receive sentencing consideration unless he implicated the four other men in his confession. As Ballard explained: “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. The only truth they wanted to hear (was) that I did it with someone else.” Ford denies making any such deal. Ballard told Frontline: “I alone committed the murders. . . . No one ever had anything to say or do with the case besides me.”
Detective Ford's Conviction

On October 27, 2010, a federal jury convicted Detective Ford of two counts of extortion and one of lying to the FBI and was sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Ford was convicted of shaking down criminal defendants for thousands of dollars in return for falsely identifying them as informants who had helped solve homicides. Ford was responsible for “closing” nearly 200 homicides over his nearly 30-year career and the identities of most of his “informants” remained secret.

In September 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court denied new appeals filed by Wilson, Williams, and Dick based on Ford’s conviction. The Court ruled that the three had presented no new evidence to justify granting relief and found no connection between Ford’s convictions and the cases of the Norfolk Four.
The Exonerations

On August 4, 2011, Derek Tice became the first of the Norfolk Four to win a full exoneration, when prosecutors announced that they would not retry him and dismissed the charges against him.

Williams and Dick filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus and on October 31, 2016, U.S. District Judge John Gibney granted the writ and vacated their convictions. The judge found both men were innocent of the crime. “By any measure, the evidence shows the defendants’ innocence—by a preponderance of the evidence, by clear and convincing evidence, by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” the judge declared.

On December 15, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Williams and Dick.

On March 21, 2017, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe granted absolute pardons to all four men. Wilson, the last of the four to be exonerated, said in a statement that McAuliffe had “given us our lives back with these full pardons.”

In March 2018, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation. Under the legislation, Williams was to receive $895,299; Dick, $875,845; Wilson, $866,456; and Tice, $858,704.

In November 2018, the city of Norfolk agreed to pay the four a total of $4.9 million.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This Blog is interested in false confessions because of the disturbing number of exonerations in the USA, Canada and multiple other jurisdictions throughout the world, where, in the absence of incriminating forensic evidence the conviction is based on self-incrimination – and because of the growing body of  scientific research showing how vulnerable suspects   are to widely used interrogation methods  such as  the notorious ‘Reid Technique.’"
Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog: