Originally published on the Virginia Defender Facebook page on September 16, 2019. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Jermaine Doss of Norfolk was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit, but his family and supporters have never wavered in their commitment to fight for his freedom.
That was proven again on Sept. 14 when nearly 50 people gathered by the Martin Luther King Memorial in downtown Norfolk for a press conference and rally to support a habeas corpus brief recently filed on Jermaine’s behalf. The brief, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia by attorney Bryan J. Jones of Charlottesville, asks that Jermaine be released from prison.
Speaking to the gathering at Church Street and Brambleton Avenue were Jermaine’s godmother, Henrietta Trotter; his sister, Felicia Doss; and Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, which has been helping the Doss family with the case for more than 10 years.
A highlight of the rally was when Jermaine called in from Sussex II State Prison and addressed the crowd, many of whom were relatives or friends from his youth. Jermaine thanked everyone for their support and said he feels like he is being held in a state of modern-day slavery. He currently works in the prison laundry for $0.47 an hour.
The press conference and rally were co-sponsored by Family, Friends & Supporters of Jermaine Doss and the Virginia Defenders.
BACKGROUND TO THE CASE:
Jermaine Doss, 46, was charged with murder-for-hire in connection with the 1998 shooting death of Norfolk businessman James Webb. The actual killer, Nathaniel McGee, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Jermaine, who has always maintained his innocence, received life-plus-38 years.
In arguing that Jermaine is innocent, supporters point to several elements in the case:
The only evidence against Jermaine was the testimony of McGee, who admitted to committing the murder. McGee initially had refused to testify against Jermaine, and has maintained that he eventually did so only because prosecutors told him that otherwise he would face the death penalty. McGee since has stated in a letter to Jermaine, in an affidavit and in court testimony that he lied about Jermaine’s involvement, but the judge in the appeal hearing said McGee was not a credible witness. So McGee was credible when he testified against Jermaine, but not when he said he had testified falsely.
Although charged with murder-for-hire, Jermaine was acquitted on that charge and instead convicted of first-degree murder. The trial judge incorrectly suggested to the jury members that they could consider that charge if they were unable to agree on a guilty verdict for murder-for-hire. The problem here is that murder is not what is called a “lesser-included offense” in the charge of murder-for-hire, so Doss never should have been convicted of that charge.
The police officer who arrested McGee and then pursued the case against Jermaine was former Norfolk detective Robert Glenn Ford, who is now serving a sentence of 12.5 years for extorting defendants and then lying about it to the FBI. Ford also was the lead investigator in the infamous case of the Norfolk Four, young sailors who confessed to rape and murder after what they said was intensive interrogations by Ford. They since have been pardoned.
It has been more than four years since Jermaine filed a request for a pardon from then-Gov. Robert McDonnell. The request was refiled when Gov. Terry McAuliffe took office and Levar Stoney, now mayor of Richmond, was Secretary of the Commonwealth in charge of processing pardon requests. Now Ralph Northam is governor, and Jermaine has yet to receive any response to his petition for a pardon.
The court is under no obligation to grant an evidentiary hearing or habeas corpus relief in response to the habeas filing. It is the hope of Jermaine’s family, friends and supporters that the Norfolk press conference and rally will help convince the court that this case of extreme injustice must be addressed.
For a photo montage of the press conference and rally, see this Facebook post by John Long. Photos by Rozita Zena.