That's the title of an editorial in today's Virginian-Pilot on yesterday's developments in the Norfolk Four case.
Derek Tice never should've been tried for - let alone convicted of - rape and murder. On Thursday, the prosecutor who put him in prison finally confirmed as much, telling the judge that he lacked the evidence to support rape and murder charges against Tice in the 1997 death of Michelle Moore-Bosko.
The admission was long overdue. For years, a growing number of attorneys, investigators and other officials have come to the disturbing conclusion that Tice and three other men - Danial Williams, Joseph Dick and Eric C. Wilson - were wrongfully convicted in the case.
In 2009, then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine cited those findings and others when he ordered that Tice, Williams and Dick be released from state prison. Wilson already had been released after serving 8-1/2 years.
But the conditional pardon didn't exonerate the Norfolk Four. Tice, like the others, has been on probation and required to register as a sex offender. He moved in with his parents in North Carolina and took a job washing windows on high-rise buildings. Williams wears an electronic monitoring bracelet and moved to Michigan, where he, too, lives with his parents.
Their legal struggles continued, with each filing appeals in state and federal courts to have their names cleared. In April, Tice won an appeal, and a federal court ordered prosecutors to decide whether to drop the charges or retry the case.
Which is what led prosecutor D.J. Hansen on Thursday to finally do what should've been done years ago: Ask that charges against Tice be dropped.
The judge obliged.
As welcome as the move was, more must be done. The other three - Williams, Dick and Wilson - remain dogged by convictions for crimes that they never committed. They are unable to move on with their lives, despite an overwhelming consensus that they should be able to do so.
The cases against each are virtually the same as the one against Tice. The outcome should be the same, too.
Te expanded AP report, "'Norfolk 4' member won't be put on trial again," by Larry O'Dell, is via CBS News.
"The dismissal of charges against Mr. Tice underscores his innocence and the grave injustice that was done to the Norfolk Four," said Dick's attorney, George Kendall. "If there is no case against Mr. Tice, then there can be no case against Mr. Dick, Mr. Williams or Mr. Wilson."
Tice's three co-defendants have state and federal appeals pending. Kendall said the state appeals focus on the actions of former Norfolk detective Robert Glenn Ford, who allegedly used threats and intimidation to extract false confessions from the men. Ford was convicted last year of extortion and lying to the FBI in a case unrelated to the Norfolk Four.
The dismissal of charges against Tice means he will no longer have to register as a sex offender and meet conditions of parole — requirements that the other three men still must fulfill because their convictions remain.
"It is now time for Mr. Tice to try to rebuild his life with this grave injustice behind him," said Tice's attorney, E. Desmond Hogan. "We all look forward to the day when Dan Williams, Joe Dick and Eric Wilson — the other innocent men of the Norfolk 4 — can likewise put this tragic chapter behind them."
Tice, 41, is taking classes at a community college in hopes of getting into nursing school and is working for a window cleaning service. He said it was daunting finding a job after his release from prison — 250 applications in three months resulted in no job interviews — but being on the sex offender registry has been even tougher.
"Anyone can look at it and say, 'Oh, he's a bad person.' Personally, to me that was very disheartening and hard to do," Tice said.
Thirty former FBI agents as well as some ex-prosecutors had lobbied to exonerate the Norfolk Four. Their cause also was championed by novelist John Grisham, who has homes in Virginia and Mississippi, and their story was featured in a PBS documentary, "The Confessions."
PBS Frontline has posted, "The Confessions: One of the "Norfolk Four" Cleared of Rape/Murder Charges."
Tice's complicated road to exoneration was profiled in our November 2010 film The Confessions, which investigated the problematic way Tice's case -- and the cases of three other men, a group known as the "Norfolk Four" -- were handled by Virginia's justice system. All four Navy men underwent long interrogations before breaking under pressure, admitting they took part in Moore-Bosko's violent death. It wasn't until 1999, after the Norfolk Four were incarcerated, that another inmate named Omar Ballard confessed that he committed the crime alone. Ballard's DNA matched evidence found at the scene of Moore-Bosko's death, while no physical evidence could connect the Norfolk Four to the crime.
"It's a victory for me, but there's still three other guys," Tice said upon hearing the news. The guys, Joe Dick Jr., Eric Wilson and Danial Williams, have all filed appeals to the Virginia Supreme Court after a lower court dismissed earlier petitions in March.
Due to a conditional pardon by then-Gov. Tim Kaine 2009, the three men are no longer in prison but still have convictions on their records, meaning they are ineligible for some kinds of employment and required to register as sex offenders.