From the front page of the Dec. 1, 2019 Richmond Times-Dispatch by Patrick Wilson.
“Believing their loved one is innocent of a murder-for-hire, the family of Jermaine Doss submitted a pardon request to then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe in May 2014. More than five years later, they still don’t have an answer. Virginia’s governors have the power to grant several types of pardons, at their prerogative. Requests are reviewed by the Virginia Parole Board and eventually the governor in a secret process. It’s not publicly known how many requests for a pardon from the governor are pending. Gov. Ralph Northam won’t provide information on the status of Doss’ request or any other, or even say how many staffers are tasked with investigating pardon requests. Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act doesn’t require any records to be made public. “We don’t provide any status updates or specific details about pending pardon petitions, so I don’t have anything I can share with you at this time,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said by email in October when asked about the status of Doss’ request.
Doss was convicted in 2000 in the shooting death in Norfolk of James Webb and was sentenced to life plus 38 years. The confessed shooter, Nathaniel McGee, was sentenced to 17 years for the killing, plus 10 years on related charges, but he later recanted his testimony. One of the Norfolk detectives involved in the case, Robert Glenn Ford, was convicted of taking bribes from criminals and lying to the FBI about it and in 2011 was sentenced to 12 ½ years in federal prison. Doss has “always maintained his innocence,” said Phil Wilayto, a civil rights activist in Richmond and editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper. In July, Doss filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asking a court that he be freed or granted a new hearing. Webb was found fatally shot in his home in March 1998. Two days earlier, Webb had gone to Doss’ business, armed with a gun, and threatened him, according to federal court records. The two were in a dispute over cocaine Doss sold to Webb. In court, McGee testified that Doss drove him to Webb’s home and told him to kill Webb, saying he would pay him. At one point, a charge of capital murder for hire and related charges against Doss were dropped because a judge found McGee’s confession was unreliable, according to court records. Norfolk prosecutors took the death penalty off the table for McGee and he testified against Doss, who was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges related to the killing. About six months later, in October 2000, McGee wrote Doss a letter that said: “I had no choice but to lie and say that you hired me to kill Webb because the prosecutor and the detectives kept wanting me to say. I know you did not know what I was planning on doing to Webb but I had to use you to get the plea or they would have killed me.”
But was his new statement credible?
A Norfolk judge found in 2006 that it was not — that the statement was motivated by a desire to help Doss, fear of Doss, and fear of being known as a “snitch” in prison, according to court records. Doss has continued to fight in court. In March 2018 he received a letter from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project saying they were unable to help him at that time, following a long investigation.
Virginia abolished parole in 1995. Wilayto questions why the governor’s office even has a pardon process if years pass without decisions being made. “It raises hopes for prisoners who are at the end of the appeals process. It raises hopes for families,” he said. “This family has gone five years and five months without a response. This is crazy.”
If there’s a need for more personnel to review cases, let’s fund them, he said.
Doss’ family and supporters held a news conference near the Martin Luther King Monument in Norfolk in September to raise awareness. Felicia Dixon-Bray of Virginia Beach, Doss’ sister, is among family members who regularly visit him at Sussex II State Prison. “We know our family member is not gone, but it always feels like there’s one person missing,” she said. She added: “It’s like we’re locked up with him, too.”
When their mother got her house redone, Doss mapped out what walls she should take out. If he was ever released from prison he wants to open a juice bar, his sister said. He’s very intelligent like that, she said, with a mind for business. She tries to steer their conversations toward family and uplifting things, she said, but “for some reason, he will always bring up the case.”