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‘Norfolk Four’ Navy sailors to get $8.4M settlement for wrongful rape conviction

An aerial view of the U.S. Navy Norfolk Naval Shipyard located on the Elizabeth River, Virginia. (Robert J. Sitar/U.S. Navy)
December 04, 2018

The city of Norfolk has reached a settlement agreement with the infamous “Norfolk Four” former Navy sailors, who are said to receive a combined $8.4 million settlement after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder in 1997.

The city has agreed to pay $4.9 million to the four former U.S. Navy sailors, and the state of Virginia will pay $3.5 million, the Associated Press reported Monday. The agreement was reportedly reached last month but only now made public, after the AP obtained a copy of the city’s settlement.

A lawyer for one of the sailors, Tony Troy, told the AP, “These guys can now put all this behind them and try to recoup their lives.”

The “Norfolk Four” – Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Derek Tice – were wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman in 1997.

Three of the four sailors were sentenced to one or more life sentences without the possibility of parole, and one was convicted of rape and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

A federal judge in 2016 overturned their convictions based on a false confession, declaring the men innocent.

A fifth man, Omar Ballard, whose DNA matched collected DNA evidence, pleaded guilty in 2000. Ballard is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

The four sailors said they were pressured to plead guilty and were threatened with the death penalty, the AP reported. Their confessions did not match at all – the only confession that matched the crime scene was Ballard’s.

The city had received claims that Norfolk police officers, including then-Detective Robert Glenn Ford, “coerced false confessions from the men and hid evidence that could have kept them free,” The Virginian-Pilot had reported.

It was reported in May 2017 that the four sailors might sue the city of Norfolk for $68 million, which would have bankrupted the city.

Norfolk might have had to increase taxes or slash its budget in order to cover the cost of the lawsuit, which drew national attention.

Norfolk, a self-insured city, has $7 million in a reserve fund it uses to pay lawsuit judgements, it has been reported. Where some cities have insurance policies, Norfolk does not, and the city will be responsible for the entire cost.

The state of Virginia earlier this year sent legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam, who approved it, that gives the Norfolk Four $3.5 million in state funds, the AP reported.

Virginia Sen. Scott Surovell told the AP, “Justice was long overdue for these four, what happened to them was outrageous and undermines faith in our criminal justice system. Hopefully this settlement will help ensure this never happens again.”