Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Federal judge vacates ex-sailor's Va. convictions

1 down, 3 to go. Congratulations to Derek Tice.

Judge vacates conviction

RICHMOND, Va. - Less than six weeks after being freed from prison by Gov. Tim Kaine, one of four ex-sailors convicted in a 1997 rape and murder got a bonus Monday--a judge's ruling wiping the crime from his record.

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams tossed out Derek Tice's convictions, citing his trial attorney's failure to try to suppress a confession taken after Tice had invoked his right to remain silent.

Tice was one of four ex-sailors, known as "The Norfolk Four," who claimed their confessions to the rape and murder of 18-year-old Michelle Moore-Bosko were coerced. Kaine last month granted Tice and two others conditional pardons, saying he had "grave doubts" about their involvement in the crime.

Kaine's action freed the men from their life prison terms but left the convictions on their records. The fourth ex-sailor, convicted only of rape, was already free after serving 8{ years in prison and was not eligible for a conditional pardon.

Tice's father, Larry Tice of Clayton, N.C., called Williams' decision vacating his son's convictions "exceptionally good news," but said he is still not satisfied.

"What I eventually want is for all four members of The Norfolk Four to be totally exonerated," he said. "It's not just Derek. I want all four men cleared."

Moore-Bosko's mother, Carol Moore, was furious when told about the ruling.

"No way," said Moore, who remains convinced of the ex-sailors' guilt. "His name is cleared and he had the most detailed confession anyone can have. This is unbelievable."

But Melissa Henke, one of Tice's attorneys, said Williams' ruling "further reiterates that what we're dealing with is three innocent men entitled to full and complete relief."

In a normal case, a ruling like Williams' would allow the prosecution to seek a retrial. However, given the unusual circumstances of the conditional pardon, it's unclear how that will play out in Tice's case.

The state attorney general's office also could appeal Williams' ruling. David Clemeotson, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Mims, said he could not comment because attorneys in the office were still reviewing the decision. Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney Gregory Underwood did not return phone and e-mail messages.

Thirty former FBI agents as well as some ex-prosecutors had lobbied to exonerate The Norfolk Four. The ex-sailors' cause also was championed by novelist John Grisham, who has homes in Virginia and Mississippi.

A fifth man convicted in the case, Omar Ballard, has said he alone raped and killed Moore-Bosko, whose sailor husband was at sea when she was slain in her apartment. His was the only DNA found at the scene, and Kaine said his was the only confession that contained information matching the crime scene.