“I Can’t Get No Relief,” the immortal words from Bob Dylan's “All Along the Watchtower” (“There's Too Much Confusion, I Can't Get No Relief”) will describe a new feature on this blog. "I Can't Get No Relief" refers to cases of false confessors who remain behind bars (or saddled with wrongful convictions) despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence. In this first installment, I focus on six men who remain imprisoned or were imprisoned despite the fact that DNA evidence appears to clear them of the crimes for which they were convicted. These cases, perhaps more than any others, highlight the power of confession evidence and suggest that it may have greater evidentiary weight to jurors than even DNA.
1-4 THE NORFOLK FOUR -- Joseph Dick, Eric Wilson, Derek Tice, and Danal Williams are four Navy men were coerced into confessing to the murder and rape of Michelle Bosko which occurred in Norfolk, Virginia in July 1997. DNA evidence later excluded the men and identified Omar Ballard as the source of the DNA found inside the victim. Ballard later admitted that he committed the crimes alone. Not a shred of evidence linked the other men to the crime. Only Danal Williams had any connection to Ballard. Ballard was a serial rapist who had assaulted another women a few weeks earlier in the same apartment complex as Bosko and a teenage girl less than two weeks after raping and killing Bosko. Wilson went to trial and was convicted only of rape; Dick and Williams pled guilty to avoid a death sentence; and Tice was convicted twice by Virginia state juries, although his conviction has recently been reversed. The only chance these men have of gaining relief is through the clemency process. Their clemency petitions are pending before Gov. Tim Kaine; For more information about this terrible injustice, see "http://www.norfolkfour.com
5. BILLY WAYNE COPE was convicted of murdering and raping his 12 year old daughter Amanda in November, 2001 in Rock Hill, S.C. After denying for hours that he had anything to do with Amanda’s death and begging for a polygraph, Cope was given a polygraph and told that he failed. This led Cope to doubt his own memory of the events and caused him to confess that he had a dream or vision in which he killed his daughter. He later recanted his confession. While Cope was awaiting trial, DNA tests of semen found on Amanda’s clothes and saliva on her breast excluded Cope and linked James Sanders, a career criminal recently released from a North Carolina prison to the crime. Sanders attack on Amanda Cope was the first in a series of numerous rapes and attempted rapes he committed in the vicinity of the Cope home. In each of these crimes, Sanders acted alone. No connection was ever established between Cope and Sanders, nor would one expect such a connection to exist. Sanders was an African-American career criminal who recently moved to Rock Hill after a life of crime in Charlotte and Cope was an obese white man whose life revolved around his church and his family. Nevertheless, prosecutors tried the men together and obtained convictions against both men. Both men are serving life sentences for the murders. Cope’s case is on appeal.
6. JUAN RIVERA was a 20 year old resident of Waukegan when he was arrested and charged with the murder and rape of 11 year old Holly Staker. The only evidence linking him to the crime was a confession which was the product of a lengthy interrogation during which Rivera went into a psychotic breakdown. During the breakdown, Rivera was banging his head against the cell walls, pulling the hair out of his head, and was curled up in a fetal position. Rivera's first two confessions were filled with errors and his third confession, written by police officers and presented to Rivera and signed by him while he was in the midst of his psychosis. Rivera was on probation at the time of the crime and placed on house arrest with an ankle bracelet which signalled authorities whenever he was a certain distance from his phones. No records at the time showed that the bracelet had been removed. In 2004, new and more sophisticated DNA definitively proved that Rivera was not the source of semen found on the victim's body, leading a judge to grant Rivera a third trial. Instead of dropping the charges, prosecutors plan on retrying Rivera under a theory that the eleven year old victim had consensual sex on or before she was raped and killed by Rivera who they claim did not ejaculate.