Judge vacates convictions of one of ‘Norfolk Four’

By Michelle Washington, The Virginian-Pilot – 9/15/2009

A federal judge on Monday vacated the convictions of Derek Tice, one of the men accused in the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko.

Tice received a conditional pardon for the crimes from Gov. Timothy M. Kaine last month. That meant he was released from prison, though he was not exonerated. One of Tice’s lawyers, Melissa Henke, said the federal judge’s ruling “does what Gov. Kaine didn’t do ” – overturns the convictions.

Tice is one of four men who said their confessions were coerced by police and that their convictions should be overturned. Tice and co-defendants Joseph Dick Jr. and Danial Williams were convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to life in prison. Another man, Eric Wilson, was convicted only of rape and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Reached at his parents’ home in North Carolina, Tice said he was “flabbergasted” by the news.

“Hopefully this is one more step to get my life back, and get back to where I was before all this happened,” he said. Tice said he has landed a construction job since his release and now has a cell phone and an e-mail address. He felt bad for Dick, Williams and Wilson and said he would continue to work toward their exoneration. He also fears that prosecutors will seek to try him again.

“I’ve been on this roller coaster for 11 years now,” Tice said. “My heart feels like it’s going to pound out of my chest.”

David Clementson, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Mims, said, “We’re reviewing the decision and have no comment at this time.”

Tice and the other defendants have argued that the fifth man convicted, Omar Ballard, had acted alone. He was the only defendant whose DNA was found at the crime scene. Ballard is serving life in prison.

The men appealed their cases through the courts for years but eventually found relief from the governor, who granted conditional pardons to Tice, Dick and Williams that freed them. Wilson had already served his time and been freed. Kaine’s pardons stopped short of wiping clean their criminal records.

Before the pardon, Tice had filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his convictions. That’s what ultimately led to Monday’s ruling.

In it, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams in Richmond found that Tice’s trial lawyers should have tried to keep jurors from hearing Tice’s confession on the ground that police continued to question him after he had invoked his right to remain silent.

“Had counsel pursued such a motion, there is a reasonable probability that Tice would not have been convicted,” Williams wrote.

It’s the third time that point has been reviewed: Norfolk Circuit Judge Everett A. Martin Jr. made a similar ruling in December 2006, which was later overturned by the state’s Supreme Court.

Often a person granted such relief is in prison and the case goes back to its original court for new trial, said Steve Emmert, a lawyer who analyzes court rulings. But Tice’s release left the federal judge wondering what relief was appropriate, Emmert said. At the end of his opinion, Williams asked lawyers to submit documents on what form his order on Tice’s relief should take.