Cops, Courts & Prisons


Originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of The Virginia Defender, issue 69, printed July 27. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2022 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Phil Wilayto

The first line in a story published July 25 in The Virginian-Pilot really caught my eye:

“A Norfolk man convicted of murder following a trial that hinged on testimony from a coerced witness and a disgraced former Norfolk police detective was exonerated this month.”

At first I thought the story was about Jermaine Doss, a Norfolk man the Defenders have been supporting for more than a dozen years. Jermaine also was convicted of murder on the basis of testimony by a confessed killer who later swore that he was coerced into testifying.

And the detective in the case? The same “disgraced former Norfolk police detective,” Robert Glenn Ford.

Jermaine Doss. Photo courtesy of the Doss family.

The Pilot story actually was about another man, Gilbert Merritt III, who was cleared after he had served more than two-thirds of a 30-year sentence. He already had been pardoned by former Gov. Ralph Northam and had been released from prison, but, with the help of the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia’s Law School, was able to win full exoneration, meaning that his record has been wiped clean.

According to the news story, “Ford was the lead detective on the case — roughly a decade before he was sentenced in 2011 to 12 1/2 years in prison for his conviction on two counts of extortion and one count of lying to the FBI. The jury in Ford’s trial found he took thousands of dollars in bribes from people facing criminal charges in exchange for favorable treatment in their court cases.”

The Pilot also reported that the Innocence Project “… has freed two other people convicted on cases for which Ford was the lead detective.”

Jermaine Doss was convicted in 2000 of murder in the death of a white businessman, James M. Webb. The actual confessed killer in the case, Nathaniel McGee, at first refused to testify against Doss. Then he did testify, claiming that Jermaine had hired him to kill Webb, but then recanted that testimony at another court hearing, saying he had only implicated Doss because prosecutors and police had told him that otherwise he could face the death penalty for the murder.

McGee, the self-confessed killer, is scheduled to be released from prison in 2025.

Jermaine, who has always maintained his innocence, received a sentence of life-plus-34-years.

Commenting on the Merritt case, Innocence Project Associate Director Juliet Hatchett was quoted as saying, “… this is important because it’s another exposure of public corruption at the hands of Detective Ford, and it’s another chapter in what has been a pretty devastating tale for the city of Norfolk.”

Back when Robert McDonnell was governor, the Defenders helped Jermaine Doss write a request for a governor’s pardon. That petition sat at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and then the Parole Board for a solid eight years. Finally, after a telephone conversation this writer had with Gov. Northam, a decision was made: The pardon was denied.

Despite that bitter disappointment, there is still hope. Jermaine had his third parole hearing on July 18. His family and supporters, including this writer, will be meeting with the Parole Board by Zoom on Sept. 14. A board decision is expected to be issued some time after that.

Jemaine has been in prison for 23 years, but only recently was allowed to be considered for parole. His is one of the so-called Fishback cases, in which for five years juries were not told that parole had been abolished in Virginia and so continued to recommend long sentences on the assumption that the convicted person would not be serving the entire sentence. A court suit filed by a prisoner named Richard Fishback opened the door for hundreds of prisoners to be eligible for parole hearings.

But now the tragedy continues. Jermaine had been desperately hoping to be granted parole in time for him to visit his father, who had been gravely ill for some time. Now, as we’re preparing to send the Defender newspaper to press, the Doss family is preparing to go to a funeral.

Jermaine’s father, Ray Doss, a Vietnam veteran and longtime government worker, passed last week from multiple health ailments. Jermaine’s mother, Willie Mae Doss, also has been admitted to the hospital.

Jermaine has been told he will be able to remotely watch two hours of his father’s wake, but will not be allowed to attend the funeral the following day. The family plans to video the ceremony and send him a copy.

A petition asking for a pardon or parole for Jermaine Doss is posted on and has gathered more than 6,000 signatures. You can view that petition, and sign your name, here.

One way or another, we have to believe that justice will be won.

Categories: Cops, Courts & Prisons

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