Thursday, 29 Oct 2020

Shocking case of four Navy sailors wrongly convicted of rape & murder 'shows anyone can be forced to falsely confess'

THE shocking case of four Navy sailors who falsely admitted to raping and murdering a young woman proves that anyone could be forced toconfess to crimes they didn't commit, Making A Murderer lawyer Laura Niyinger has warned.

Laura, who represents Brendan Dassey – the teen famously convicted of murder in the hit Netflix show – said the Norfolk Four case is one of the most colossal miscarriages of justice in US history.

Now 20 years after the men were convicted, Laura is re-examining the case as part of a new podcast called Wrongful Conviction, which aims to highlight forced confessions and change the law surrounding controversial interrogations techniques.

The disturbing case saw four men; Joe Dick Jr., Derek Tice, Dan Williams, and Eric Wilson wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko in Norfolk, Virginia.

Using psychological torturous interrogation techniques the four men were questioned for hours at a time, one by one, until they finally cracked and gave a false confession.

"The Norfolk four is one of the most shocking examples of the failure of the American justice system that exists," Laura told The Sun.

"It's an incredibly disturbing story. It's about four ordinary Americans who signed up in the United States Navy to serve their country and who ended up being accused of murdering another sailor's wife.

"All four of them were interrogated using techniques that we know can cause false confessions techniques, not unlike what we saw happen to my client, Brendan Dassey, in Making A Murderer.

"All four of them were interrogated one by one, until they each falsely confessed to raping and murdering their fellow sailor's wife and spent between eight and 20 years in prison until DNA finally identified the real perpetrator.

"I have worked with the leading experts on the globe, worked with hundreds of people who falsely confessed themselves and my conclusion after all of this is that these interrogation techniques, all of which are perfectly legal, can cause anyone to falsely confess.

"We all have a breaking point. You don't have to be young. You don't have to be mentally impaired. Any of us could be made to falsely confess.

"In fact, that's what psychological interrogation is designed to do – find the breaking point of whoever's being interrogated and then exploit it."

Tragic victim Michelle was found stabbed and strangled to death in her apartment in July 1997 – just months after she had married Bill Bosko, another Navy sailor.

Sailor Dan Williams was the first to be arrested after a neighbor said she had seen him flirting with Michelle.

"Dan happens to be the neighbor of the victim, he's got no record, there's no reason to zero on him, other than they hear a rumor that he flirted with her once," Laura explained.

"They have him take a polygraph test which he passes but the police tell him he has failed.

"Unlike in other countries such as the UK, police in the US are allowed to lie in the interrogation room about the evidence they have against you.

"So they tell him he failed the polygraph, which is perfectly legal and that shocks him. That scares him.

"They're telling him there's evidence against him, they know he did this, no one's going to believe he's innocent. This goes on overnight.

"For more than 12 hours, they tell him he's going to get the death penalty unless he confesses.

"This goes on until eventually Dan confesses to beating this woman with ashoe."

Dan, a newlywed whose wife has ovarian cancer, is jailed, but months later – after his wife has died – forensic testing is done and shows it was not Dan's DNA.

"You would think they would drop charges but instead, they pick up a second sailor Joe Dick," Laura said.

"They interrogate him. They tell him there's rock solid evidence against him and he will get the death penalty unless he confesses.

"Again after hours of interrogation, Joe confesses to committing the crime along with Dan.

"He's charged, they test the DNA and once again it's not Joe's so they go get a third sailor Eric Wilson, same thing, he's interrogated overnight, he confesses, they test the DNA, and it's not him either.

"Incredibly, they then go get a fourth guy Derek, same thing, same tactics, he confesses and once again the DNA does not match.

"At that point rather than reinvestigating the whole case, they just stop investigating, they throw up their hands and say, 'This is as good as we're going to get'. "

Eventually the real rapist Omar Ballard confessed to the crime.

After a series of retrials and appeals, Eric was released in 2005 and Derek, Joe and Dan were freed in 2009.

The men only managed to completely clear their names three years ago – when they were granted absolute pardons, with a judge saying no sane person could find them guilty.

Dan told the podcast how he had managed to piece his life back together again after he was released from prison.

"I'm living in Michigan now," he said.

"After my incarceration, after I got home I went to Baker College and got my associates degree in applied sciences for welding," he said.

"I have not stopped working yet…I go fishing for pan fish and bass – usually in lakes.

"I cook all the time. Cooking is something I enjoy since getting out I've been cooking at our local VFW [veterans association).

"I do Sunday breakfast, I cook everything pancakes, french toast, eggs to order, omelettes breakfast burrito."

Laura added: "It's been horrible for Dan. He's a wonderful man. He lost his wife, she died while this was happening to him.

"It's been incredibly traumatic for all four of these sailors.

"These are guys who thought they were signing up to fight for their country.

"And instead they end up being accused of the ultimate dishonor and fighting for their own freedom.

"The scars of those kinds of battles, they don't leave anyone who's been through it."

Laura's podcast examines 12 shocking wrong conviction cases – including a group of white Chicago cops who called themselves the "Midnight Crew" and systematically tortured and electrocuted more than 200 black men until they confessed to crimes.

"A big part of what we do and a big reason why we were doing the podcast is we fight for reforms in the criminal justice system," she said.

"The interrogation room is really important to focus on because so much of the unrest and the anger, coming out on to the streets of America has to do with the way that police interact with people in their local communities.

"And a lot of those interactions happen inside the interrogation room. So ifthe police are allowed to lie during these interactions, that's going to foster distrust and animosity.

"There's a bill that's been introduced in New York state to outlaw deceptions during interrogations and we need all 50 states to do the same."

Laura represents Brendan Dassey, who confessed to helping his uncle Steven Avery murder photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005 when he was just 16.

He was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole in 2048 but his lawyers argue his confession was coerced.

The podcast Wrongful Conviction is available on Apple Podcasts.

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