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FRONTLINE: The Confessions

Airs Friday, July 15, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Credit: Courtesy of FRONTLINE

Above: The “Norfolk Four,” clockwise from top left: Eric Wilson, Joe Dick, Danial Williams and Derek Tice. Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit?

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit? In "The Confessions," FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel ("Innocence Lost," "An Ordinary Crime") investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia, woman in 1997.

The Case Timeline

View a timeline of key events surrounding the Norfolk Four case, from 1990 to the present.

In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques, including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation and intimidation, that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite any evidence linking them to the crime.

All four sailors are now out of prison — one served his sentence and the other three were granted conditional pardons last summer — but the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders. The case raises disturbing questions about the actions of the police and prosecutors, who relied on the sailors’ often contradictory confessions for their convictions, and disregarded DNA evidence that pointed to a lone assailant who would later confess to the crime himself while serving prison time for another rape.

Video Excerpt: Frontline: The Confessions: Recording A Confession

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit? In "The Confessions," FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation -- that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime.

Video Excerpt: Frontline: The Confessions: Finding A Lawyer

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit? In this clip from "The Confessions," the parents of one of the "Norfolk Four" describe when their son first told them he had signed a confession. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation -- that led each of the "Norfolk Four" to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime.

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