Robbie C. Hamby
The summer of 1995 a young man named Eric Wilson, hugged his parents and little brother goodbye and headed off to serve his country.
He knew the Navy was the place for him. He was a patriot with dreams of working up in the ranks, traveling the world and retirement in his heart.
Escaping the Texas heat, he set off for boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois proud to serve his country so near its Independence Day. He was eventually stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
The new Pleasanton High School graduate was an innocent, naive young man with blue eyes and blond locks.
He had been raised in an almost idyllic family. They attended First Baptist Church and spent time doing what families do, shuffling from one activity to the other, camping trips and having dinner together.
His mother was a 2nd grade teacher in Jourdanton. His dad worked at the San Miguel plant. Eric and his brother were Eagle Scouts. He played in the high school band, took martial arts, and was a photographer in journalism class. Cheerleaders always seemed to be friendlier when he had a camera in hand.
But soon the innocence of the young Eric Wilson would be stripped away. Just a few short years into his Navy career, Wilson was accused of the horrific rape and murder of an 18-year old woman named Michelle Moore-Bosko. Michelle’s innocence was taken too, her life brutally cut short, soon after her secret marriage to her high school sweetheart.
The plot to this story is simple, four young navy-men, “The Norfolk Four” were accused, tried and found guilty of this heinous crime.
But, the twist is that they were all innocent.
The lack of evidence along with the prosecution’s theory would actually be laughable, if it weren’t so appalling.
How this young naive native of Atascosa County would end up in a prison for 7.5 years for a crime he didn’t commit is, simply put, tragic.
It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Those of us with the slightest of trust issues can, at least to a degree, concur. The young man who left Pleasanton, the man who was raised to trust the police, the judicial system and the truth, he was in for a ride that few can even imagine.
Eric’s mother said the ordeal has been life shattering,
“Devastation. Complete devastation, along with confusion and disbelief. Everything we now know about the case came to light one little piece of information at a time over the course of more than a year. For so long it was the first thing we thought of when we woke up and the last thing we thought of when we went to sleep.
“It consumed all of our waking moments, we weren’t able to push it aside.
“I felt so bad for him. I had my husband, my other son, my extended family, my friends. He had no one. He could call us on the phone, but that’s not the same as having someone right there with you
“We felt absolutely helpless. He was in the hands of the system and we didn’t know anything about how to navigate through the system. We had no ability to act on his behalf. All we could do was get him an attorney. He was our line to Eric, and our guide throughout the whole process.”
Since his release in 2005, Eric has picked up his life the best he could. He moved back to Pleasanton, his hometown, with the stigma of convicted rapist hanging over his head. He would spend the next 12 years as a registered sex offender. This is the sentence that hurt the worse. A sentence his family would serve with him.
He married a Jourdanton girl, Misty. The pair met years ago in their school days. They reconnected and soon were inseparable. “I don’t think I could have adjusted if it wasn’t for her. She helped me become Eric again. I owe it all to her, I really do. She’s everything.” The couple will celebrate their 10th anniversary this June. Misty had a son, who was four at that time, and together they have another son.
She admits, “It was rather difficult because I did have a young son at the time and I had to think about what it would mean for us. But, I have always believed in the truth and standing up for what is right. I never believed he was guilty.
“I knew the risk. People were going to be against it and it was going to be hard. But, it didn’t seem right to be a coward just because of what other people would think.
“This has been an absolute nightmare but Eric is one of the strongest people I know. He really is. In the face of this he could have become an alcoholic. Falling apart. Bitter. He could have let this ruin his entire life. He really could have, but he didn’t. Instead he has been able to say this is going on but we are going to move forward and live our life like it doesn’t matter. He has kept his back straight and his head held up high.
“He’s an amazing man and I made the right decision to be with him.”
With a community of people in Atascosa County who believed in his innocence and cared for his family, he was, in a sense, sheltered. Though many knew his story, few spoke of it.
Still, Wilson’s status as a registered sex offender has made finding work difficult at times. Not to mention attending many school functions, boy scout events and most tragically, officially adopting his stepson has been an impossibility.
To be clear, there is not one shred of physical evidence connecting Wilson, or any of the other six men accused, to this crime.
Eric Wilson spent 7.5 years in prison after he was convicted of rape. The other three sailors who went to trial each spent at least 10 years locked up for Bosko’s rape and murder.
The scary truth is, there are bad seeds in this world.
Michelle’s killer was a bad seed. And the police officer who bullied the “Norfolk Four” was a bad seed.
But why would someone confess to such a horrid crime if, in fact, they were innocent?
That’s the million dollar question.
Why would they say they did this horrible crime, if they had not?
It is unclear how many people are manipulated into false confessions. The statistics are hard to pin down. After all, criminals aren’t usually known for their honesty. No one can imagine saying they took part in the cold blooded rape and murder of a young woman, unless, in fact, they had.
But, imagine yourself, a young, trusting 21-year-old sailor. You woke up at 5:30 a.m. for duty on your ship. You finish work and are immediately taken to the police station. You’re locked in a small room for hours with a police detective, named Robert Glenn Ford.
This particular officer has just received his detective’s badge back after it was revoked in 1990.
Revoked when he was found guilty of coercing false murder confessions from three teenagers. Teenagers who were found to be nowhere near that crime.
This very detective is telling you for hours and hours and hours that you have failed a polygraph.
He throws a photo of the bloody, dead body of Michelle Moore-Bosko on the table in front of you. A photo that would haunt you the rest of your life.
He tells you that he has witnesses.
That you are a liar.
That the only way you will avoid the death penalty is to admit it.
That the only way out of that room is to admit it.
For hours. For 10 hours.
You are tired. Emotionally and physically tired. Exhaustion has crept into your soul. And you just want to sleep. You want to eat.
You want out of that tiny room.
Finally you say, “I did it.” Then comes the fabricated story the officer helps you weave.
It is full of inconsistencies. It doesn’t match the crime scene. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s close enough. Finally they pull out a recorder.
In your mind, this will bring reprieve. You will sleep and you will tell the truth tomorrow.
Tomorrow you will get a lawyer and there will be DNA testing to prove your innocence.
But, upon waking, there is no relief.
Day after day, there is no relief.
Your lawyer is a good one, thanks to your parents’ retirement.
But despite that, when the trial comes all the jurors hear is the recording of your voice, monotone from exhaustion detailing an attack and saying, “I did it.”
It’s all anyone hears.
The jurors, much like the innocent Eric Wilson, from the small, sleepy town of Pleasanton, thought there was no such thing as a crooked cop. And they never dreamed that an innocent man would confess to a crime he didn’t commit.
The fact is there was no DNA to tie the “Norfolk Four” or the other sailors who were blamed in Bosko’s death. Surely the jurors saw the red flags between that and the absurdity of the prosecution’s theory.
The prosecution claimed that these seven men, who barely knew each other, went to Michelle’s apartment but she wouldn’t let them in. They then went out to the parking lot to sulk and complain that their evil plans had gone awry.
Just then, Otto Ballard, a man none of them knew, happened upon them.
How did this conversation go? One can imagine. “Hey, fellows, what are y’all up to?” “Oh, we’re just here, hanging out. Thinking about how to get into a lady named Michelle Moore-Bosko’s apartment. We really want to attack her.”
“Oh, well I know her, we’ve met a few times. She will let me in. Let’s do this together!”
So off the group of eight go to strangle, stab and rape a young woman in her apartment at about 11:30 p.m.
This group of men were so quiet no one in the complex heard them. And they were so neat that the 700 square foot apartment wasn’t disheveled. So neat that the only DNA left behind was that of their newfound friend Otto Ballard-found in Michelle’s body and under her fingernails.
Eric Wilson would spend 7.5 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
But, the case has another twist. Eric’s years on the sex offender registry have now come to a close. The years of being labeled guilty of rape have come to an end.
Last Tuesday, March 20, Eric, along with the other three of the “Norfolk Four” received word that they have been completely pardoned by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Finally someone really heard the voice of the young Eric Wilson.
It’s a moment his parents and brother have waited almost 19 years for. Now they can finally say, “We are so pleased now that it’s over. We want to shout it from the rooftops Now he’s free and he can start his life without this cloud over his head. It’s just a wonderful feeling.”