CLAYTON — Since being pardoned after serving 11 years, one month and 18 days in prison, Derek Tice has spent a lot of time in a small bedroom at his parents' house, watching television from a twin bed.
"After 11 years of having the same routine and the restrictions on me like that, I've kind of got to reboot the system," Tice said.
Tice, 39, was released from prison Aug. 6 after a years-long legal battle in which he swore he was not guilty of raping and murdering a Norfolk woman in 1997. He had confessed to the crime, but he said police coerced him into doing so.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Tice and two other former sailors convicted in the case, Danial Williams and Joseph Dick Jr. It was a move that has drawn sharp criticism from the men's supporters, who say they should have gotten absolute pardons.
Tice, who had a clean record before the arrest, can't resume the life he once had in Clayton. The conditional pardon means the murder and rape charges are still on his record.
He has to register as a sex offender. He can't drink alcohol, even in his home. He can't go hunting, a hobby he was starting to take an interest in when he was arrested in 1998. He can't volunteer with the Clayton rescue squad as he used to.
And he has to find a job -- an uphill battle in this economy even for people who haven't been convicted of a felony.
"I have a little bit more freedom, but my life is still on hold," Tice said.
A long fight
Tice joined the Navy in 1990, a couple of years after graduating from Clayton High School, in hopes of receiving medical training.
After serving three years, he moved to Florida. On June 18, 1998, he returned to his Orlando home and found a note from the Norfolk Police Department. Authorities wanted to talk to him about the rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko a year earlier.
Later that night, police arrested Tice. Others were charged, too, and Tice became known as one of the "Norfolk Four" who went to prison for the crime and were later released. Tice's DNA was not found at the scene, and his confession had glaring discrepancies from what the evidence showed.
Omar Ballard, a fifth man in the case, was convicted and said he killed the woman alone.
Still, two juries agreed Tice was guilty.
So for 11 years, Tice sat in a prison cell, watching NASCAR races on a 5-inch TV. He kept detailed notes about the drivers. Every other day, he circled a one-eighth mile loop in the exercise yard in a state prison in Waverly, Va.
Outside those four walls, Tice's parents, Larry and Rachel, and his lawyers were fighting for his freedom. At 1 p.m. Aug. 6, Tice learned the governor was signing the conditional pardon. He walked out of prison at 7 p.m.
It was like a dream, Tice said.
"Take every good thing that you've ever imagined, and compress all those feelings down to one second," Tice said. "Now experience that second for six hours, and you'll begin to get an inkling of how I felt."
Steak to celebrate
That night, he ate a steak dinner in Richmond with his family and the families of the other two men.
The next day, he met up with Joseph Dick Jr., another of the "Norfolk Four." Dick had pointed police to Tice during his own interrogation.
For a while, Tice and his parents resented Dick for lying. But now, Tice said, he understands what Dick likely went through at the hands of police detectives.
The day he was released, Dick granted Tice permission to hit him.
When Tice returned to his parents' home in Clayton the day after he was set free, he had business to tend to.
He had to get a driver's license and set up a bank account. He got a cell phone for the first time in his life. Tice has applied for work at Wal-Mart, Lowe's Home Improvement and other stores and restaurants.
A second teenhood
It's as if Tice were a teenager again, his mother said. Now Tice's parents hope their son can move forward.
"I want him to have a life," Larry Tice said. "He's had a big portion of his life taken away from him through no fault of his own."
But Tice knows it won't be easy. He's caught up with a couple of friends from Clayton High School, where he played the trumpet in the marching band and drove a school bus. Those friends are married with kids now.
"Everybody has gone on and gotten careers and everything," Tice said. "And I'm kind of like starting over."
He's thinking of learning to play the guitar. He wants to form a relationship with his teenage daughter in Texas.
And Tice's legal fight isn't over. His lawyers are pushing for an absolute pardon.
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