Wednesday, November 19, 2008

FBI Agents Call for Release of "Norfolk Four"

A group of more than two dozen retired FBI agents have requested the state of Virginia to pardon four men who say they were wrongfully convicted of a murder of a nineteen year old woman in 1997. The "Norfolk Four" are four Navy men who say they falsely confessed to involvement in the rape and murder of the girl. Forensic evidence at the scene suggested the presence of just one man; a man named Omar Ballard confessed to the murder after the conviction of the four sailors; and most importantly, DNA evidence supports that Omar Ballard alone committed the crime. Nevertheless, three of the four "Norfolk Four" are still in prison. 
The FBI Agents sent a letter back in July requesting the Virginia Governor pardon the men; on November 10, 2008, the FBI men held a press conference after not receiving a response on the letter.
At the news conference, Cochran said the Richmond chapter of the retired FBI agents was approached by the lawyers for the Norfolk Four with a request to 
examine the case. They were not paid. He said that they brought a skepticism to the case that is natural for a group of men with 700 collective years in law enforcement and that "the best interests of justice demanded that we speak out."

Cochran said the agents did not meet or speak with the Norfolk prosecutors or investigators who handled the case. Those officials have maintained that all five men convicted in the case were properly prosecuted.

The confessions given by the four convicted sailors conflicted with the physical evidence, Cochran and the other agents said.

Retired agent Thomas O'Donnell said the confessions were obtained under duress by Detective Glen Ford and that Ford was later "disciplined and demoted for having elicited false confessions" in another case. He said this case caused Norfolk police to begin videotaping interrogations. Ford has denied coercing any confessions.

Full article here from The Washington Post

An evaluation done by Dr. Richard Ofshe is a useful primer in the problems that existed with the coercive interrogation techniques used in the case and can be a useful starting point for evaluating your own confession cases. Look also at The Innocence Project's materials on false confessions in the story of the Norfolk Four case.

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