William “Ricky” Virgil, a Kentucky Black man who spent 28 years in prison for murder was released after DNA evidence exonerated him in 2016. He then sued the city of Newport, Kentucky and the police for a wrongful conviction shortly after. Unfortunately, Virgil died before he ever got the chance to confront the police in court who are being accused of framing him, according to WCPO.
During the last few decades, we have seen a sharp increase in high-profile exonerations of Black people, particularly Black men because of the heightened sense of social justice in the country.
Virgil’s civil trial was originally set to begin in federal court in August 2021 in Covington, Kentucky. But U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning delayed the case so the accused officers could appeal.
At the time, Elliot Slosar, Virgil’s attorney, accused the police officers of stalling and warned that 69-year-old Virgil might not survive a long delay in the trial. His worst fears came true because on Jan. 2, Virgil died, according to WCPO.
Officers Marc Brandt and Norm Wagner and their attorney, Jeff Mando, claim that the appeal was not meant to stall the trial, but their right so they could get a fair ruling from the court. Now in the hands of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a trial might not take place until 2023.
On April 13, 1987, a coworker discovered the body of Retha Welch, a 54-year-old psychiatric nurse who worked in jail ministry, in the bathroom of her Newport home. She had been raped, stabbed 28 times and severely hit on the head.
Welch had met Virgil while ministering inmates. He had been released from prison a few months before her death and said the two had a sexual relationship.
Less than two weeks later, Newport police arrested Virgil for Welch’s murder. In 1988, after a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence, the jury convicted him.
Virgil had always maintained his innocence. Attorneys for the Kentucky Innocence Project took an interest in Virgil’s case and won a motion for DNA testing in 2010.
In 2015, a Campbell County Circuit Court judge gave Virgil a new trial and then in August 2016 Joe Womack, a prosecution witness, took back his testimony that Virgil confessed to him about murdering welch while the two were inmates with each other, according to WCPO.
He wrote in an affidavit that officer Norman Wagner shared with him details of the Welch murder.
Womack then shared his allegations to a jury in December 2016 and they decided not to re-indict Virgil and instead dismissed him of all charges weeks later.
More from WCPO:
When Virgil first filed his lawsuit in 2016, he sued the cities of Norwood, Cincinnati and Newport, as well as officers from all three departments for their roles in a joint investigation into a possible serial killer. He alleged they withheld and fabricated evidence, and that the city of Newport failed to train its officers.
As the case moved through the court system, Bunning dismissed claims against the cities of Norwood and Cincinnati, and all law enforcement except for former Newport officers Wagner and Marc Brandt, “who the record shows may have withheld exculpatory evidence relating to alternate suspects and pretrial payments to a witness.”