Case Information

In early February 1979, Joe Giarratano, in a drug-addled haze, stumbled off a bus in Jacksonville, Florida. According to the police report, Joe walked up to a police officer who was eating breakfast and said “I [think] I killed two people in Norfolk and I want to turn myself in.”

Over the course of the next two days Joe, loaded with a potent tranquilizer administered by a jail doctor to help stave off the onslaught of narcotic and alcohol withdrawal, gave five police-written confessions to the stabbing death of Barbara Kline and the sexual assault and strangulation of her fifteen year old daughter Michelle, whose bodies were discovered in their apartment in Norfolk, Virginia on February 5, 1979. These police-written confessions were internally inconsistent, contradicted one another, and contradicted the physical evidence in the case.

Leading experts in the field of false confessions, after extensive review of the case records, and interviews with police interrogators, have concluded that none of Joe’s police-written confessions demonstrate any actual knowledge of the crime scene that would have been known only to the true killer. Instead they demonstrate the kind of ignorance of the underlying crime facts that one would expect from an innocent, false confessor. Investigation has clearly shown that not a single piece of independent evidence links Joe to the crime.

After being returned to Norfolk, Joe noticed two minute spots of what appeared to be blood on one of his boots. This, though he had no actual memory of killing anyone, only confirmed for him what the Norfolk detectives had been spoon-feeding him; he gave the boots to the jailor and soon thereafter, ridden with assumed guilt, attempted to take his own life. Joe was fed large doses of Thorazine (a powerful psychotropic drug), shuffled into court for a four-hour non-jury trial, where no defense was attempted or presented, and swiftly sentenced to death.

Joe, having grown up in an extremely abusive household, having suffered a history of blackouts brought on by years of substance abuse, with the help of police, became convinced that he murdered his friends. Believing himself to be a monster, he sought to force the State to put him out of his misery. But for the efforts of investigators, led by Marie Deans, Joe would not be alive today.

In short, there is not a piece of significant evidence supporting that Joe’s contradictory and inconsistent police-written confessions are reliable. Not a single shred of the known physical evidence links Joe to the murder of his friends: not the bloody foot prints, not the finger prints, not the sperm, not the hairs, nor any of the other physical evidence collected, but never presented, and denied to Joe’s defense. Because a confession was obtained, the physical evidence was of no importance and ignored. All of the information and evidence uncovered after Joe’s brief trial clearly indicates that in all likelihood an innocent man was wrongfully convicted of a capital crime: information and evidence that was not presented at the four hour trial, because no one made the effort to look.

Because Joe’s court appointed trial lawyer raised no objections at the time of trial all errors later presented on appeal were barred from review on their merits, and deemed to be procedurally defaulted. When the after-discovered information and evidence was unearthed by Marie Deans and the investigators she recruited, then Attorney General, Mary Sue Terry, announced that under the Virginia Rules of procedure, i.e. the 21-day rule, “evidence of innocence is irrelevant.” The courts agreed that they were bound by the rule and kept their eyes closed.

In February of 1991, just hours before his scheduled execution, former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, troubled by the bogus confession, the wealth of after-discovered information and evidence supporting innocence, that was not presented at the rushed trial in 1979, granted Joe a “Conditional Pardon”: commuting the death sentence to life, with an agreement that Joe would waive any double-jeopardy claims that would bar a new trial, and with a strong recommendation that a new trial be granted. Since that fateful day, due to the Commonwealth’s 21-day rule, Joe has been denied the chance to prove his innocence in a fair trial where the evidence can be presented.

In 1991, it was determined that Joe was innocent enough not to be put to death in Virginia’s electric chair; and it was determined that the case against him was seriously flawed enough to warrant a new trial. But the Attorney General of Virginia, and the criminal justice system in Virginia—relying on procedural artifice and legal sophistry—have determined that: “It’s better to hang some feller, than no feller.” –Bleak House – Charles Dickens