National News

Clayton man freed in rape-slaying: 'I'm innocent'

Posted August 8, 2009 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated August 8, 2009 8:53 p.m. EDT

— An ex-sailor from Clayton was released from a Virginia prison after more than a decade behind bars for the rape and slaying of a fellow sailor's wife. He spoke with WRAL News on Saturday and proclaimed his innocence.

Derek Tice is one of three men who were convicted of the 1997 rape and slaying of Michelle Moore-Bosko, 18. On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said he doubted their level of involvement and granted them conditional pardons.

"I'm afraid that this is a dream and I'm going to wake up and be back in that 5-by-7 cell," Tice said. "I'm sorry, even a blind man can see that I'm innocent."

He is one of four sailors who were dubbed "The Norfolk Four." The governor granted conditional pardons this week to Tice, Danial Williams and Joseph Dick Jr., who were all sentenced to life in prison. The fourth man, Eric Wilson, was not convicted.

A fifth man, Omar Ballard, was later convicted and has said he alone raped and killed Moore-Bosko, whose 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.

Tice's father, Larry Tice, said he and his family want a full pardon to clear his son's name and record. Unless he gets the full pardon, Tice will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and will spend the next 10 years on parole.

"As long as I draw breath, my fight will continue," Larry Tice said.

Derek Tice said he originally confessed to the killing because he and his fellow sailors were threatened with the death penalty.

"(I was told) 'You're guilty. You're going to die. How does it feel to know you're going to get the needle?' After 16 hours of that with no hope of getting out of that room, any man, any man would confess," he said.

Victim's family blames political pressure

The victim's family blamed the men's release on political pressure from novelist and Democratic contributor John Grisham. The men's supporters say it's not enough and want them declared innocent.

Grisham, who has homes in Virginia and Mississippi and is famous for his legal thrillers, has said he believed all four are innocent and is writing a screenplay about their case.

Since 2000, he has donated more than $390,000 to Virginia Democrats, including $175,000 to Kaine and his political action committee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a statewide tracker of campaign donations. Grisham also serves on the board of The Innocence Project, which fights to free wrongfully convicted inmates.

"Obviously, Mr. Grisham's wealth and influence are far more important to Governor Kaine's political aspirations and public image than truth or justice," Carol Moore and her husband John said in an e-mailed statement.

Grisham did not return calls for comment.

Besides Grisham, 30 former FBI agents as well as some ex-prosecutors have backed the men, saying they are not guilty.

Moore-Bosko's parents charged that Kaine, who is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, bowed to political pressure.

"Let him walk in our shoes; let's see how he would feel," a sobbing Carol Moore told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Pittsburgh home. "This is nothing but political and John Grisham."

Kaine, who inherited the pardon requests from former Gov. Mark Warner, said he is the only official who has exhaustively reviewed all the cases and said he's "very comfortable" with his decision.

The four men did not conclusively prove their innocence, but there were "grave doubts about at least the level of their complicity in the crime," he said. Each confessed to the murder. After they were convicted, they claimed their confessions were coerced.

"This was a horrible crime that their young daughter was the victim of, and they are entitled to feel however they want to feel, and I wouldn't suggest anything about the way they should feel," Kaine said. "My heart really goes out to them like it has through this whole process."