‘Norfolk Four’ Man Catches Eye of Supreme Court

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court may offer hope to a man who wants to clear his name after doing seven years for a rape he did not commit.
     Eric C. Wilson and three other sailors, known as the “Norfolk Four,” were convicted of the rape and murder of a Virginia woman in 1997. The other three men were convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to life in prison; Wilson got seven years for rape.
     Wilson’s federal petition for habeas corpus was denied: a district court ruled such a petition could not be filed by someone who’s already served his sentence, and an appeals court refused to take the case.
     Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli refused to respond to Wilson’s petition to the Supreme Court, but in March the high court ordered that the Cuccinelli must respond.
     In 1997, Wilson and the other three men confessed to the rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosco in Norfolk, Va., though their lawyers claim that the confession was coerced by a corrupt detective, Robert Ford, who is serving a 12-year sentence for extortion and making false statements to the FBI.
     DNA evidence exonerated the Norfolk Four, implicating Omar Ballard, who confessed to raping and killing Moore-Bosco by himself.
     Wilson served his seven years and was released, but must register as a sex offender, which, his petition claims, severely limits his life.
     He filed a writ of habeas corpus, but was denied at the district court level and the 4th Circuit begrudgingly refused to take his case.
     “The district court dismissed Wilson’s petition for lack of jurisdiction, holding that because Wilson had fully served the sentence for his rape conviction, he was no longer ‘in custody,'” 4th Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote for the three-judge panel. “We affirm. While it appears that Wilson has mounted a serious constitutional challenge to his conviction, in which he vigorously asserts his innocence, we conclude that the sex offender registration requirements of Virginia and Texas are collateral consequences of his conviction that are independently imposed on him because of his status as a convicted sex offender and not as part of his sentence.”
     Fourth Circuit Judge James Wynn Jr., in dissent, wrote that “Wilson’s completion of an arguably undeserved sentence is the condition that the majority opinion contends serves to seal off the courts is especially egregious. It is in effect an additional punishment that the majority opinion inflicts upon Wilson.”
     Cuccinelli failed to respond to Wilson’s petition to the Supreme Court, which has asked that Cuccinelli file a response by April 25.
     As a registered sex offender, Wilson must report to the police in person every year and notify local authorities if he travels. His employment opportunities as an electrician are limited and he cannot go to school functions for his son.
     The other three men were pardoned in 2009 by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who did nothing for Wilson because he already had been released.

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