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Logan Bogert

Virginia Governor OKs Paying ‘Norfolk Four’ $3.5 Million

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation to provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation to the “Norfolk Four,” the U.S. Navy sailors who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a 1997 rape and murder.

Northam last week signed identical House and Senate bills to compensate Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Derek Tice and Eric Wilson, who were wrongly convicted in 1999 of raping and killing 18-year-old Michelle Bosko.

Under the legislation, Williams will receive $895,299; Dick, $875,845; Wilson, $866,456; and Tice, $858,704.

On Thursday, Northam signed the measures containing the compensation package – Senate Bill 772, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and House Bill 762, proposed by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.

The legislation notes that the “Norfolk Four” defendants “spent nearly four decades in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, and another collective 30 years after release from prison under highly restrictive parole and sex offender registry conditions that imposed onerous barriers to their reentry to society.”

The four men were “imprisoned and experienced assaults and other horrific experiences during the imprisonment that irreparably broke them in a manner that no time or money will ever fix,” according to the legislation.

The defendants were convicted because of their coerced confessions, even though the real rapist and murderer, Omar Ballard, confessed in 1999 to committing the crime alone and his DNA was found at the crime scene, bills state.

Ballard is currently an inmate at Sussex II State Prison and serving two life terms plus 42 years for capital murder, two rapes, two counts of malicious wounding, and abduction.

In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice. That action ended their sentences, but the men remained on the sex offender registry. Wilson had already been released from prison in 2005 after serving more than eight years behind bars.

A decade after their convictions, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the convictions of Dick and Williams.

“Considering the evolution of their admissions, their subsequent recantation and the other physical evidence, the admissions of guilt by Williams, Dick and Tice are far from convincing,” Gibney’s decision stated. “Any reasonable juror considering all of the evidence would harbor reasonable doubt as to whether Williams, Dick, or anyone else, was with Ballard in Bosko’s apartment.”

In March 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted the “Norfolk Four” unconditional pardons, fully restoring their civil rights. However, the legislation signed by Northam states that “all four men have struggled to rebuild their lives and have lived vastly reduced lives due to the strong stigma of their wrongful convictions.”

Virginia Governor Calls Special Session to Tackle Budget

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After adjourning last week without passing a budget, members of the Virginia General Assembly will reconvene April 11 for a special session to complete their work on a biennial spending plan.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a proclamation Tuesday calling the special session.

“After a legislative session that was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that matter to people’s lives, I remain disappointed that the General Assembly was unable to extend that spirit of cooperation to its work on the budget,” Northam said in a press release.

The House budget bill, introduced by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, passed in the House 68-32. The Senate insisted on amendments. The bill went to a conference committee, but negotiators could not reach agreement before the session concluded Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, introduced the Senate’s budget bill, which passed the Senate 25-15. It was sent to the House but never made it out of the Appropriations Committee.

The major sticking point is over Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans. The House wants to expand Medicaid on grounds that the federal government will pick up most of the cost. The Senate opposes that idea because it fears the state may be stuck with the tab.

Like the House, Northam wants to expand Medicaid.

“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live. We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it,” he said in Tuesday’s statement.

“Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns.”

The General Assembly convened on Jan. 10 for a 60-day session. By the end of the session, more than 870 bills had passed — but none on the budget.

By April 9, Northam must sign, veto or recommend changes on the approved bills. The General Assembly already was scheduled to meet on April 18 to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations.

Bill Would Compensate ‘Norfolk Four’ Nearly $3.5 Million

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Nearly 20 years after the sentencing of the “Norfolk Four,” a bill before the Virginia General Assembly could provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation for the wrongfully convicted and imprisoned men.

Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Derek Tice and Eric Wilson — all members of the U.S. Navy at the time — were wrongly convicted in 1999 for the 1997 rape and murder of 18-year-old Michelle Bosko.

Senate Bill 772, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would award each of the “Norfolk Four” more than $850,000. The bill passed in the Senate, and then in the House with a substitute. The substitute had the same amount of compensation as Surovell’s original bill — but the Senate rejected it Thursday.

Meanwhile, Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, proposed House Bill 762. It also compensated the “Norfolk Four” nearly $3.5 million in total. The bill passed the House unanimously. However, the Senate Finance Committee recommended a substitute that lowered the amount of compensation to about $1.9 million. The House rejected that substitute Tuesday.

The legislation will now go to a conference committee to resolve the disagreement.

Representatives for Surovell and Jones were not immediately available to comment on the issue.

The legislation details the circumstances surrounding the “Norfolk Four,” noting that they “spent nearly four decades in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, and another collective 30 years after release from prison under highly restrictive parole and sex offender registry conditions that imposed onerous barriers to their reentry to society.”

The four defendants were convicted because of their coerced confessions, even though the real rapist and murderer, Omar Ballard, confessed the same year to committing the crime alone and his DNA was found at the crime scene, bills state.

Ballard is currently an inmate at Sussex II State Prison and serving two life terms plus 42 years for capital murder, two rapes, two counts of malicious wounding, and abduction.

In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice. The conditional pardon ended their sentences, but the men remained on the sex offender registry. Wilson had already been released from prison in 2005 after serving 8.5 years.

A decade after their convictions, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the convictions of Dick and Williams.

“Considering the evolution of their admissions, their subsequent recantation and the other physical evidence, the admissions of guilt by Williams, Dick and Tice are far from convincing,” Gibney’s decision stated. “Any reasonable juror considering all of the evidence would harbor reasonable doubt as to whether Williams, Dick, or anyone else, was with Ballard in Bosko’s apartment.”

In March 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted the “Norfolk Four” unconditional pardons. That action fully restored their civil rights and innocence. A 2017 press release from McAuliffe’s office stated, “These pardons close the final chapter on a grave injustice that has plagued these four men for nearly 20 years.”

Besides the “Norfolk Four,” the General Assembly also is considering awarding compensation to Robert Davis, who spent almost 13 years in prison for a murder in Crozet, Virginia, that he did not commit.

On Thursday, the Senate joined the House in passing HB 1010, which would provide about $580,000 in compensation for Davis.

Furthermore, Virginia legislators have passed a bill to help other wrongfully convicted defendants.

On Monday, senators gave final approval to HB 976, which would ensure that Virginians who have been wrongfully incarcerated receive timely payment of a $15,000 grant from the state.

The bill, proposed by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, sets a 30-day time frame for those who have been exonerated to receive the existing Transitional Assistance Grant. Currently, there is no time limit for the state to disburse the money.

“It is a small difference that will make a huge difference in the lives of those who are already facing the challenge of getting back on their feet after being wrongfully incarcerated,” Guzman said in a press release.

Virginia Teenagers May Rescue Volunteer Fire Departments

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to allow teenagers to join volunteer fire and rescue squads may save many operations around Virginia that have seen an increase in service calls but a decrease in volunteers.

Volunteers make up more than 65 percent of Virginia’s firefighting services – but according to the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, “retention and recruitment of new members has never been more challenging.”

However, the General Assembly approved – unanimously in both the House and Senate – a bill that might rescue some of these operations.

Currently in Virginia, 16- and 17-year-olds can join a volunteer fire department only with parental or guardian consent and proper certification. SB 887, if signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, would allow these teens to join a volunteer fire department and participate in non-hazardous activities such as training exercises without consent or certification. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds still would need consent and certification to participate in a fire department’s or rescue squad’s potentially hazardous activities.

“The commonwealth recognizes the need to reach out to Virginia’s youth and engage them in non-operational roles within emergency departments,” Mohamed Abbamin, policy manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said by email. “Reaching out to people when they are young has long-range effects, and encouraging youth to take part in the emergency services is extremely beneficial to local communities and departments.”

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, introduced the bill after a meeting with the VDFP in the fall.

“It’s just like anything else: If you can get young people involved, there’s a better chance they’re going to stick with it,” Deeds said. “This bill is just about encouraging and making sure that young people can be as involved as possible.”

The legislation directs the Virginia Fire Services Board, which oversees the VDFP, to adopt a junior member policy to provide guidance to fire and rescue departments in developing and administering non-hazardous training courses and programs.

“If we can get young people that are high school age involved at least on an auxiliary basis helping out, they might be interested in eventually becoming a fireman. So that’s the idea behind the legislation,” Deeds said.

Bill Would Provide More Resources to Help Those With Spinal Cord Injuries

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians with recent spinal cord injuries soon may receive more resources, if a bill sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan passes in the House.

Senate Bill 287 would make information regarding spinal cord injuries in the Statewide Trauma Registry available to the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. The data would allow the department to develop and implement programs and services to those suffering from spinal cord injuries.

“This is essentially a clean-up bill,” McClellan, D-Richmond, told the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions on Thursday. The committee unanimously approved the measure, sending it to the full House for a vote.

Sharon Drennan, mother of a son with a spinal cord injury and founder of the United Spinal Association of Virginia, spoke in favor of the bill.

 “Without the data that is needed, we are unable to provide the resources to individuals across the commonwealth that are newly injured,” Drennan said.  “They can become isolated, and we want to help them become active members of our community. With this data, we can do the outreach we need.”

Colleen Miller, executive director of the Disability Law Center of Virginia, said her center supports SB 287 as well.

Last month, the bill passed in the Senate, 40-0.

Panel Nixes Using Cameras to Catch Speeders in School Zones

Sen. Leslie Adams (R-Pittslyvania) speaks to the House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee on his proposed bill, HB 1021. Adams bill to allow localities to monitor school zone speeding with photo speed monitoring devices was defeated Thursday in a 6-0 vote. Photos by Logan Bogert

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Despite no public opposition, a House subcommittee defeated a bill Thursday to allow the use of cameras to monitor speeding in school zones.

The House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee voted 6-0 to “pass by indefinitely” House Bill 1021, which would have allowed the installation of cameras to automatically take photos of individuals driving at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit. Twenty-five states including Tennessee and Florida have adopted similar legislation.

“Other than domestic violence situations, traffic stops are the most dangerous situations for law enforcement,” Eric Finkbeiner of American Traffic Solutions told the subcommittee. “In other states that have this legislation, there have been significant decreases both in traffic stops but also in speeding – sometimes between 15 and 20 percent.”

According to Finkbeiner, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported almost 8,000 speeding violations in school zones in 2016 and more than 1,000 crashes in school zones as a result of speeding the following year. Five of the crashes involved fatalities.

HB 1021, introduced by Del. Leslie Adams, R-Pittsylvania, proposed the same photo-monitoring procedures already in use to document red light violations. It would have required a law enforcement officer to monitor the camera and issue tickets via mail to violators.

“I am afraid with legislation like this, we’re going to get a ticket in the mail and the seriousness of speeding in a school zone is going to be negated,” said Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, a member of the subcommittee.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has proposed similar legislation in the Senate. SB 917 would allow law enforcement officers to operate a handheld photo speed monitoring device in or around school crossing zones to record images of vehicles traveling more than 12 mph above the posted speed limit.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-6 Wednesday in favor of Chase’s bill. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate has already passed SB 509, which would allow the Department of State Police to use handheld photo speed monitoring devices in or around highway work zones. Senators approved the bill on a 22-18 vote Tuesday.

On Thursday, SB 509 was assigned to the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

State Legislators Ask Congress to Improve Interstate 81

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than a dozen members of the Virginia General Assembly urged their counterparts in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to fund improvements in safety and congestion on Interstate 81, which runs from Tennessee to the Canadian border.

The state lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as well as to U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Barbara Comstock, whose congressional districts include I-81.

The letter was signed by three state senators (Charles Carrico, Creigh Deeds and Mark Obenshain) and 14 state delegates, all from the western part of the state. Fifteen of the legislators are Republicans, and two are Democrats. They asked Congress to support several bills to improve I-81.

“I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for common sense solutions for our pressing safety problems on I-81,” Obenshain, a Republican from Harrisonburg, said in a press release. “We are coming together as a bipartisan group of Senators and Delegates urging our Congressional delegation to fight for funding for I-81.”

Obenshain has two bills on this issue before the General Assembly:

  • Senate Bill 561 would direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program to establish zones on I-81 where tractor trucks would be required to travel in the right lane. SB 561 has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.
  • SB 971 would direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop an I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan that may include tolling heavy commercial vehicles to finance the improvements. SB 971 has been referred to the Committee on Rules.

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, who also signed the letter, has proposed creating a joint subcommittee to study the possibility of adding lanes to I-81 between Wytheville and Bristol.

“There are real safety problems that need real solutions,” Obenshain said, “and I am confident that these legislative proposals will present these solutions.”

‘Beltway Sniper’ Lee Boyd Malvo Seeks Re-sentencing

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A three-judge federal appeals court panel heard arguments Tuesday on whether Lee Boyd Malvo, who was convicted of murder in the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, is entitled to a new sentencing under a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges listened to arguments from Malvo’s lawyer, Craig Cooley, and Virginia’s deputy solicitor general, Matthew McGuire.

“There are real serious considerations in re-sentencing dangerous criminals – which no one can argue Mr. Malvo isn’t,” McGuire said in court.

Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad, then 41, killed 10 people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington during September and October of 2002.

Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in Virginia in 2009. Malvo was given four life terms and is an inmate at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a juvenile could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, except in the rarest of cases. Even then, a sentencing judge must make an individualized and focused evaluation before sentencing, the high court said.

Last year, citing the Miller decision, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson of Norfolk ordered a new sentencing for Malvo, now 32.

The state of Virginia appealed Jackson’s ruling. As a result, lawyers for both sides presented arguments to 4th Circuit Judges Paul Niemeyer, Robert King and Albert Diaz.

Cooley argued that in Malvo’s case, when given the option of life without parole or death, the jury voted unanimously to sentence him to life without parole – the lowest sentencing option at that time.

“It is possible, given the option, that they would have gone lower than life without parole,” Cooley told the court.

McGuire presented his counterargument.

“Lee Boyd Malvo is a serial murderer,” one of his documents states. “Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad terrorized people living along the I-95 corridor between Virginia and Maryland for nearly a month in the fall of 2002, randomly killing 10 innocent people going about their daily activities and wounding numerous others, including a child.”

The appeals panel did not indicate when it might rule.

Malvo has been convicted and given life sentences in Maryland as well. Last year, a judge ruled that he will not receive a new sentencing hearing there.

Thousands Celebrate Anniversary of Women’s March in D.C.

By Logan Bogert and Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – On the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, thousands of women and their allies took to the streets of D.C. on Saturday to make a statement – march to the polls in November.

“March on the Polls,” the theme of the follow-up demonstration to what some have called the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, featured speakers including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach and Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters.

“One year ago, millions of women and the men and children that have their backs marched to send the message that women deserve to be heard, women deserve to be respected, women deserve to lead,” Kaine told the crowd.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also addressed the gathering. She urged women to show up not only the day of the march “but in town halls.”

Speakers urged women to get involved politically. It was a message epitomized by Convirs-Fowler, who defeated Republican incumbent Ron Villanueva to become one of the first Asian-American women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

“Last year I marched, then I ran – then I won,” Convirs-Fowler said.

Saturday’s demonstration began in front of the Lincoln Memorial and marched to the White House. While much smaller than the 2017 Women’s March, thousands still participated. Many demonstrators displayed signs with messages like “The Blue Wave is Here” and “I’m With Her.”

The attendees included Hanover resident and Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Susan Stokes. She said it was important to march “so we can all understand that we are large in number and that we’re not fighting the fight alone, and we can accomplish things when we stick together.”

In addition to the anniversary march in D.C., sister marches were held in cities across the country. The official 2018 Women’s March will be held in Las Vegas on Sunday.

D.C. resident Amanda Quemore said the demonstrations represented “a collective movement of people coming together saying we need to do better, and we need to work together.”

“I think marches are a first good start,” Quemore said. “But I do think there needs to be some better organization around the issues so that way we can make sure that action is actually taken.”

Alexis Wing of Boston, who also participated in last year’s march, was upbeat as she returned to Washington on Saturday.

“There were a lot more people last year because last year, (the official march) was in D.C.,” Wing said. “This year, it feels great to be back out here with a bunch of other badass women.”

Cold Temperatures Fail to Deter Inauguration Crowd

By Logan Bogert and Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –  Virginians had a lot of reasons to endure biting cold temperatures Saturday to witness Ralph Northam's inauguration as governor. Some of the estimated 5,000 spectators came with a plea of help. Some wanted to witness democracy in action. And others had dedicated themselves to the Northam campaign.

“I’m here to celebrate our way ahead,” Christine Payne of Williamsburg said, referring to Northam’s inaugural theme. “I worked hard for him since his primary, and I am here to continue that support. I hope to see his campaign promises come to fruition, from the environment all to the economy.”

Sophin Sok, a Richmond resident from Cambodia, said she came to the inaugural ceremony in hopes of getting Northam’s attention to pardon her fiance, who has been detained for three months and faces deportation.  

“He  came here at the age of 3, and he’s the biological father to three of my kids.” Sok said. “About a decade ago, he plead guilty to a charge, but he served his time, paid his debt to society and he turned his life around and pretty much put his family as a priority.

“They didn’t prepare him for anything, they just took him. They didn’t allow us to prepare ourselves -- so now it’s kind of hard for me because he is the main provider also and he’s a great father,” Sok said.

Sok said she and her fiance have children ages 1, 2 and 6. They  want Northam to write a pardon letter so he can come home and get a second chance to stay in America.

For Kevin Miller of Danville, the inaugural parade brought a special family meaning. He came to watch his son perform with the George Washington High School marching band. “It’s a great honor for them and an opportunity for them to do something they don’t get to do very often,” Miller said.

The ceremony and parade showcased Virginia's diversity.

The day opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Boy and Girl Scouts from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center. And it closed with the blessing of the grounds by representatives of Virginia's Indian tribes.

Universities from across the state took part in the parade, as did such groups as Equality Virginia, the Cultural Center of India and the Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team.

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