Commonwealth’s Attorney and UVA Law Announce Review of Ford Cases

NORFOLK, Va. – Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi announced on Friday a conviction integrity review of all closed prosecution files connected to the investigative work of former Norfolk Police Detective Robert Glenn Ford, who was convicted in federal court in 2010 for receiving bribes from criminal suspects and who was involved in the wrongful convictions of multiple people, including the sailors known as the Norfolk Four. The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has formed a partnership with University of Virginia School of Law Prof. Deirdre M. Enright and with Prof. Enright’s Project for Informed Reform Clinic. This partnership allows for a long-overdue, transparent, and objective examination of these cases in an effort to determine whether information in the Office’s files might reveal any misconduct by then-Detective Ford.

Thirteen years ago today, on Oct. 27, 2010, a federal jury at the United States District Court in Norfolk found Mr. Ford guilty of conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right, extortion, and providing false statements to the FBI. Federal prosecutors proved that Mr. Ford, while working as a Norfolk Police Department homicide investigator, had taken bribes from criminal defendants, falsely represented to the Office that those defendants were assisting in the investigation of homicide cases, and, thereby, secured the release of those defendants on bogus cooperation agreements. In February 2011, Mr. Ford was sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison for those crimes. Mr. Ford has served his sentence and been released.

Mr. Ford is also known to have extracted false confessions from suspects in multiple high-profile criminal cases, including from three innocent juveniles regarding the 1990 murder of a Norfolk restaurant owner and, most infamously, from four innocent Navy sailors regarding the 1998 rape and murder of a Norfolk woman. The sailors — Joseph J. Dick Jr., Derek Tice, Danial Williams, and Eric C. Wilson — later became known as the Norfolk Four and were exonerated following a national effort to demonstrate their innocence. Governor Tim Kaine granted the Norfolk Four conditional pardons in 2009, and Governor Terry McAuliffe granted them absolute pardons in 2017. Four other innocent defendants from unrelated cases handled by Mr. Ford have also had their convictions overturned since then.

“Our justice system is only as strong as people’s faith in its ability to deliver honest justice and show that the right people are in prison for the right reasons,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi. “In the 13 years since Robert Glenn Ford’s federal conviction, there has never been a comprehensive review of then-Detective Ford’s cases to determine whether his misdeeds extended beyond those that federal investigators and prosecutors as well as diligent innocence lawyers have already uncovered. For many, then-Detective Ford’s misdeeds remain an open wound, undermining the confidence in the convictions of the people whose cases he touched. The time has come for us to try to clean that wound as best we can through an evenhanded review of our files. I am grateful to Prof. Enright, UVA Law School, and the students and staff of the Project for Informed Reform Clinic for assisting us in this important duty.”

This conviction integrity review will be the first comprehensive examination of the prosecution files which the Office, defense or innocence lawyers, and the public have identified as being associated with then-Detective Ford.

Thus far, the Office and Prof. Enright have identified over 90 cases known to have involved then-Detective Ford, and over 90 additional cases that may have involved him. An employee of the Clinic has spent the last few months in the Office digitizing the paper prosecution files from the 1990s and 2000s and loading those files into the Office case-management system, where they become available for review by the lawyers, law students, and staff at UVA Law, pursuant to a confidentiality agreement. The digitization process would have been impossible for the Office to do on its own, and the digitization and review services come at no cost to the Office or the City of Norfolk.

The file reviews will take place in Charlottesville under the supervision of Prof. Enright, who serves as the Clinic Director. UVA Law students and staff will review the files for any irregularities that would suggest that the defendant was innocent or that the constitutional rights of the defendant were violated. If the review returns any findings that merit further litigation, Clinic personnel will inform the Commonwealth’s Attorney and other involved parties. The Office will then conduct a second review of any findings to determine what next steps to take, if any.

The Office and Clinic consider this review imperative to public confidence in the Norfolk justice system, to assuring victims from those cases and their loved ones that the true perpetrators are being held accountable, and to confirming that the people serving sentences for crimes that then-Detective Ford investigated received a fair trial consistent with their constitutional rights. This partnership will last as long as necessary to review all files identified as being related to Mr. Ford.

“Chief Justice Warren Burger once cautioned that confidence in the courts could be destroyed if ‘people who have long been exploited in the smaller transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights from fraud and over-reaching.’ Fraud and overreaching were just two of the many ways that Robert Glenn Ford exploited and abused the Norfolk community, wrongfully convicting and imprisoning untold numbers with deception, threats, violence and more,” said Prof. Enright. “Righting the many wrongs of Mr. Ford’s perversion of justice is nothing more or less than the essential next step toward restoring confidence in the courts. My students and staff are eager to begin.”

“We may never know the full extent of Robert Glenn Ford’s wrongdoing,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Fatehi. “But for the sake of victims, inmates, the community, and justice, we must turn over the stones we have, and we will, no matter what. If we ask witnesses to pick up the phone and report crimes — and then to come to court and testify — we have a duty to give them a justice system equal to their efforts.”

Anyone who believes that Mr. Ford was involved in their or their loved one’s criminal case and who would like to add their case to this review should contact the Project for Informed Reform Clinic by calling 434-924-3732 or emailing deirdre@law.virginia.edu.

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