Is Joe Innocent? You be the judge!

joe giarratano photo

In 1979 Joe Giarratano, a drug addled alcoholic, walked up to a lone police officer at a Greyhound Bus Station in Jacksonville, Florida and said ”I think I killed my two friends in Virginia.” Joe was taken into custody, and because he was experiencing the effects of drug and alcohol withdrawal, he was given potent psychotropic drugs to calm him. A Jacksonville police officer then sought further information from Joe. The result of this interrogation concluded with the first of five police written confessions to the murder of Barbara and Michelle Kline.

While Joe was being questioned by the Jacksonville police officer, two Norfolk Virginia homicide
detectives were taking in a horrendous crime scene; the lifeless body of Barbara Kline was found
sprawled on the bathroom floor of her apartment. Barbara had been stabbed and her throat had been
cut; her blood was splattered all over the bathroom. There were bloody shoeprints leading out of the
bathroom and out to a carpeted hallway.

A short distance away in the first of two bedrooms, Barbara’s daughter, Michelle, was found lying on
the bed, partially covered with an afghan. She had been strangled and apparently raped.

The Norfolk detectives gathered a wealth of physical evidence;

Dozens of latent finger prints were found in the bathroom and hallway. Finger prints were also in the
bedroom where Michelle was found. These prints did not belong to either of the victims.

Numerous head hairs were found around Barbara’s body and others were found on or near Michelle’s
body. These hairs did not come from either of the victims.

A rape kit was done and intact sperm were found but no semen.

All of this evidence was sent to the crime lab for testing.

The Norfolk detectives had an initial suspect and located him. That suspect denied any knowledge of
the murders, but then pointed at finger at Joe. That suspect told the detectives that Joe could be
found in Jacksonville, Florida and gave them an address and phone number where he believed Joe was

Before the detectives were able to act on that information, they were contacted by the Jacksonville
Police. The Norfolk detectives travelled to Jacksonville to question Joe. Joe was sedated, the jail
doctor was giving him large doses of Mellaril. The detectives questioned and made it clear that the
confession given to the Jacksonville police was not at all accurate. Based on their visual
inspection of the crime scene, they began to interrogate Joe. In that process, they spoonfed details
of the crime to Joe, e.g. that Michelle had been raped (a fact that wasn’t in the first confession).
They made it clear that they knew that Joe’s memory was messed up from the drugs and alcohol he had
consumed. They promised to get him medical and psychiatric help, if he would just sign the
confession they had written out for him.

The following day Joe waived extradition and was escorted back to Norfolk by the detectives. Soon
after being placed in an isolation cell, Joe noticed a small speck of blood on one of his boots.
Though he had no actual memory of killing his friends, when he saw that speck of blood, he became
convinced that he must have. He banged for a deputy. When the deputy arrived he handed over his boots, asked
that they be given to the detectives; and then when the deputy left, convinced that he was evil, Joe
severely slashed his wrist. He was rushed to a hospital and soon after committed to a mental
hospital for evaluation and treatment. There he was prescribed large doses of Thorazine (a drug he
remained on throughout the trial process and up to 1984).

When the forensic evidence was tested by the crime lab, it was determined that the head and
pubic hairs DID NOT MATCH TO JOE. The sperm recovered from Michelle Kline DID NOT MATCH TO JOE. The
unidentified finger prints found in an around the two rooms where the victims were found DID NOT
MATCH TO JOE. The small speck of blood found on Joe’s boot matched the blood type of Michelle Kline,
the victim who was strangled and did not bleed. (A few years after Joe was convicted, the state’s
Forensic expert who originally tested Joe’s boots, submitted an affidavit stating unequivocably,
that Joe could not have left the bloody shoe prints at the crime scene. The police had never
informed her about the bloody shoe prints left by the perpetrator, nor did they show her the crime
scene photos of those shoe prints. Had they done so she would have told them to seek out another

After a “bench trial” that lasted approximately a half a day – a trial where the only issue decided
was whether or not Joe was criminally insane – Joe was found guilty and sentenced to death. When the
Judge questioned the contradictory, different, inconsistent confessions, the prosecutor put his
psychiatric expert on the stand to give an explanation. That expert testified that due to heavy drug
use and alcohol use and susceptibility to black outs, Joe was “confabulating”, i.e. trying to make
sense of the things he had no memory of, and filling in the blanks with what he thought could have

(Years later in an interview with a leading Virginia newspaper, the same prosecutor stated that he
had no doubt that Joe had no memory of the crime, that given the extent of his drug and alcohol
abuse that is no surprise. He went on to state that, nevertheless, he was convinced of Joe’s guilt
because “when I had him on the witness stand under cross-examination, I looked into his eyes and saw
pure evil.” Joe was never on the witness stand. He was never cross-examined. During the brief trial
Joe sat at the defendant’s table, glassy-eyed and drooling due to the Thorazine he was pumped full

While on death row, Joe turned his life around. He educated himself by reading widely in philosophy,
theology and law; he became a jail-house lawyer, a teacher who instilled principles of non-violence
in his fellow prisoners, and a lecturer who introduced the realities of the criminal justice system
to visiting classes from across America.

In February of 1991, Joe came within two days of dying in the electric chair. The merits of his case
for innocence drew international attention and support from diverse organizations such as United
Conservatives of America and Amnesty International as well as many individuals. The outcry prompted
Governor L. Douglas Wilder to review the case. He agreed that coerced confessions, shaky evidence
and poor representation cast serious doubts on Joe’s guilt. Wilder ordered that Joe be released from
death row, commuted his sentence to life imprisonment and recommended that he be given a new trial.

More than twenty years later, Joe is still waiting for that trial.

As early as 1989 when DNA testing was in its infancy Joe sought DNA testing on the evidence in his
case but was denied access to the evidence by the Attorney General of Virginia.

Some years later Joe’s counsel learned that one of the two lead detectives in the case authorized
that all of the physical evidence in the possession of the Norfolk Police from Joe’s case be
destroyed (on October 1, 1979) before the first appeal in the case was even decided. Absolutely no
credible legal or other justification could exist to destroy key evidence while the case was on
direct appeal.

In 2003 Joe’s attorneys attempted to learn why the Detective authorized the premature destruction of
evidence. The Detective told the investigator that he had no memory of ever authorizing the disposal
even though written records with his signature confirm that he did just that

Though all the official chain of custody documents indicated that the evidence remained at the Lab,
and though the Lab administration assured the court that they never destroy evidence at a hearing
held on 21 January 2004, no one was able to explain where this crucial evidence is. The best that
the Office of chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Forensic Science could come up with is
that the evidence is mysteriously lost. Sorry

This brief introduction into Joe’s Kafkaesque Odyssey is just that brief. These facts and much more
can be easily accessed on this site. Joe asks that you be the judge and, if you conclude that a
miscarriage of justice has occurred, that you send a letter to
Governor Terry McAuliffe,
1111 East
Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

You can email the governor by clicking on this link.


Freeing the wrongfully convicted is never easy and it takes the efforts of many people to do so. Joe has many friends and supporters, you can be one of them by subscribing to Newsletter below.