Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has ordered freedom for three former sailors convicted of raping and killing another sailor's wife in 1997.
Kaine denied a pardon request from a fourth former sailor who spent 8 1/2 years in prison for raping Michelle Moore-Bosko but was acquitted of her murder and is now free.
Kaine granted Derek Tice, Danial Williams and Joseph Dick Jr. conditional pardons, meaning they will spend no more time in prison. Each was sentenced to life.
Kaine says there are "grave doubts about at least the level of their complicity."
A fifth man, Omar Ballard, was later convicted and has said he alone raped and killed Moore-Bosko. Only his DNA was at the scene.
Moore-Bosko's parents says the pardons are shameful and a disservice to the citizens of Virginia.
Moore-Bosko, 18, was sexually assaulted, strangled and stabbed while her Navy husband was deployed. The slain teen's mother said the governor's office told her Thursday that Kaine was granting the pardon. She made the announcement in a statement but did not say what conditional pardons entail.
"Let him walk in our shoes, let's see how he would feel," a sobbing Carol Moore told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her Pittsburgh home. "This is nothing but political and John Grisham."
Novelist Grisham blamed
Grisham, a novelist famous for his legal thrillers, has said he believed Derek Tice, Danial Williams, Joseph Dick Jr. and Eric Wilson — known as the "Norfolk Four" — were innocent and he was writing a screenplay about their case.
Each of the men confessed to the murder but then, after they were convicted, claimed their confessions were coerced.
Wilson was convicted of raping Moore-Bosko but was acquitted of her murder. Wilson finished serving his 8 1/2-year sentence in 2005, while the other three were sentenced to life in prison.
A fifth man, Omar Ballard, was later convicted and has said he alone raped and killed Moore-Bosko. His DNA was the only one found at the scene.
"Obviously, Mr. Grisham's wealth and influence are far more important to Governor Kaine's political aspirations and public image than truth or justice," Moore and her husband John said in an e-mailed statement.
Since 2000, Grisham has donated more than $390,000 to Virginia Democrats, including $175,000 to Kaine and his political action committee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a statewide tracker of campaign donations.
Kaine had two clemency petitions — one for Wilson and one for the other three. He inherited them from former Gov. Mark Warner, who received them shortly before leaving office in 2006. Supporters have pleaded with Kaine to act on the requests before leaving office in January.
Former attorneys general and FBI agents, several lawyers and a homicide detective have come to the defense of the Norfolk Four, saying they were wrongfully convicted primarily because of false confessions made under threats of the death penalty.
Supporters say the pattern of the victim's wounds suggested there was only one assailant and that the tidy appearance of her apartment was inconsistent with a gang rape and murder. They also claim the confessions conflicted with each other and crime scene evidence.
Kaine was the last hope for the three men, who had exhausted all legal remedies.
In 2006 a Norfolk Cicuit judge vacated Tice's conviction, saying Tice's lawyer should have tried to get his conviction thrown out because he already had invoked his right to remain silent. The Virginia Supreme Court reinstated it two years later.
"It is truly shameful and a disservice to the citizens of Virginia and our family, that the decisions of the courts have been ignored, and confessed rapists and murderers are being set free," the Moores said in their statement.
It is not clear when Tice, Williams and Dick will go free.
Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the department would follow the governor's orders "as quickly as we possibly can."