The Washington Post reports this morning that John Grisham is writing a screenplay about the so-called Norfolk Four, four sailors who claim to have been wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a Norfolk woman in 1997. The men confessed to the crime, but following their guilty verdicts, recanted, claiming they had been coerced. Another suspect was identified and it was his DNA that matched the crime scene, not the sailors’. He, too, confessed and claimed to have acted alone. However, the Four’s convictions continue to stand.
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“It’s the most egregious case of wrongful conviction I’ve seen, and I travel around the country listening to stories about these cases,” said Grisham, who lives outside Charlottesville. He said the prosecution “should have been a fairly clear-cut DNA case, involving a man who later pled guilty, and to this day confesses he did it and did it alone.”
Grisham said he has written letters to Gov. Tim Kaine (D), whom he knows personally, on behalf of the Norfolk Four. The governor is still considering the request for clemency and has given few signs of how or when he might decide, though he did say last fall in a radio interview that “they’re asking for a whole series of confessions . . . to all be discarded. That is a huge request.”
The victim’s family, meanwhile, is upset. Today is the anniversary of their daughter’s death and news of Grisham’s involvement hasn’t seemed to help much.
In a statement, the [family] wrote: “Our family is devastated to learn that once again, people with inaccurate information and personal agendas are attempting to profit from the tragic death of our daughter. Their lack of genuine compassion for what we have experienced through this never-ending nightmare is overwhelming. Please do not put us through this again.”
Grisham denies that profit is a motive in his involvement with the project.
A website has been established by the Norfolk Four’s defense. The Virginian-Pilot reported this story first, and the comments following their story are pretty interesting.