Cops, Courts & Prisons


Originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 59, printed August 23. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

Jermaine Doss, shown here with his sister Felicia in Suffolk II State Prison. Photo courtesy of the Doss family.

There’s a new legal development in the case of Virginia prisoner Jermaine Doss, now 20 years into a sentence of life-plus-38 years for a crime many believe he did not commit. 

In July, Doss’ new attorney, Bryan J. Jones of Charlottesville, filed a petition for habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The petition asks for an evidentiary hearing (where evidence in the case can be presented) or habeas corpus relief (a hearing in which the state must explain its reasons for keeping someone in custody). 

Doss, a Norfolk native, is now held in Sussex II State Prison in rural Sussex County. He was 25 when he was sent to prison for murder in a case in which he was originally charged with murderfor-hire. In January he’ll be 47. 

“I think it’s a strong case,” Jones told the Defender. “Of particular concern is the issue of his being indicted for one thing and convicted of a different charge.” 

Some of the issues raised in the habeas petition are: 

  • Doss was convicted of first-degree murder as an accessory before the fact, which Jones says is not a lesser-included offense to murder for hire. 
  • At Doss’ trial, it was presiding Judge Everett A. Martin Jr. who suggested the jury could find Doss guilty of the “lesser included offense,” not the prosecution. 
  • Doss’ attorneys at the time did not strongly object to the judge’s instructions to the jury about this. Jones says this violates the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel for the accused. 

In addition, the only evidence against Doss was the testimony of the actual confessed killer, Nathaniel McGee, who repeatedly has insisted that Doss is innocent and that he only testified against Doss because prosecutors had said that if he did not that he himself would face the death penalty. 

Doss has always maintained he was set up by a crooked cop after refusing to pay a large bribe. The officer in question, former Norfolk Det. Robert Glenn Ford, was sentenced in 2011 to 12 ½ years in prison for taking money from criminals in exchange for getting them favorable treatment in court and then lying about it to the FBI. 

Ford was the officer who arrested McGee after the murder. He also was the lead investigator in the infamous case of the Norfolk Four, Norfolk sailors falsely convicted for rape and murder. They have since been pardoned after maintaining that their confessions had been forced from them during police interrogations. 

In May of 2013, the Defenders helped submit a formal request for a pardon from then-Gov. Bob McDonnell. The request was resubmitted after Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as Virginia’s governor in January 2014. McAuliffe’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, in charge of reviewing pardon requests, was Levar Stoney, now mayor of Richmond. 

To date, there has never been a response to the pardon request.

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