Do You Know the Norfolk Four?

The Norfolk Four are four men, convicted for the 1997 horrific rape and murder of a woman in Norfolk, Virginia. All four were US Navy sailors. None of them had criminal histories. No scientific evidence linked the sailors to the crime.

On July 8, 1997 a Norfolk sailor returned home after a military assignment to find his wife murdered. Her killer had raped, stabbed, and strangled her. Strangely, there were no signs of a break-in or a struggle inside the apartment. The homicide detective assigned to the case quickly arrested several men and claimed that they confessed. The "confessions" however didn't match each other or the evidence.

All four were ultimately convicted. Their convictions were largely based on alleged confessions. The Norfolk Four argue that police coerced them into giving the confessions using threats of the death penalty if they did not plead guilty. Also, evidence showed that fatal stab wounds to the victim were equal depth and clustered closely together. This clearly contradicts the prosecution's theory that multiple men had taken turns stabbing her. The wounds were consistent with a scenario of one attacker stabbing her multiple times.

DNA evidence implicated a man other than one of the four sailors. That man Omar Ballard appeared to be the sole perpetrator of the crime. Only Ballard's blood and semen were found at the crime scene. Ballard had been convicted of an unrelated rape of a child in 1998. Ballard confessed to committing the 1997 Norfolk rape/murder by himself. Police pressured Ballard to name the Norfolk Four as accomplices. Ballard refused and maintained that he had committed the crime alone. Instead of acknowledging the mistake, prosecutors theorized that Ballard committed the crime with the sailors. Three of the sailors were sentenced to life in prison for murder and rape. One other was convicted only of rape, received a shorter sentence.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN : The homicide detective that elicited those "confessions" was later convicted in federal court of fraud and lying to FBI agents. Evidence in his trial revealed that the detective lied in court and manipulated drug dealer's ceases for money. The prosecutor in that case called the detective a "disgrace to the badge." That detective was sentenced to serve more than 12 years in federal prison. Supporters of the accused sailors understandably argued that this development supported the positions that the case against them was corrupted.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: One man was released after serving eight years in prison. Lawyers for the remaining three sailors filed clemency petitions with two governors. Eleven of the jurors from the trials and several FBI agents wrote letters supporting the innocence of all four men. Five years later Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to the three members of the Norfolk Four still in prison, setting them free. This conditional pardon released them but did not clear their names. They all remain convicted felons and must register as sex offenders for the rest their lives.

This case indicates the extreme possibility of grave injustices in our criminal court system. As citizens we must remain vigilant over judges, prosecutors and police. Those of us who work within the system must make every effort possible to expose situations like this. At the very least we should all at least be aware of this tragic case.

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