A Norfolk man sentenced to 48 years in prison for a drive-by shooting in which no one was injured has received an absolute pardon, thanks in part to efforts from the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project.
Bobbie Morman Jr. was granted an absolute pardon by Gov. Ralph Northam on July 14, according to a news release from UVa, after serving 22 years behind bars. He had been out on parole since 2016.
Morman was convicted in Norfolk Circuit Court in a 1993 drive-by shooting. Based on eyewitness testimony, Morman was convicted on three counts of attempted malicious wounding and several firearms charges. He was 18 at the time.
However, per the release, a man named Glen “Geno” Payne testified at the trial that he had committed the crime.
After being denied an appeal by the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1994 and later by the Supreme Court of Virginia, Morman’s case went largely quiet until Norfolk news station WTKR brought attention to it in 2014.
The news report included an interview with Payne in which he again admitted that he had been the one to fire the gun during the 1993 incident.
“I shot in the air,” Payne told WTKR. “Just to scare them. Let them know, and drove on by.”
Following the press coverage, the Innocence Project took up Morman’s case in 2015, and professor Jennifer Givens, director of the Innocence Project, made the supplemental appeal in 2016 after UVa law students investigated details of the case.
“It seemed so incredible to us that Bobbie was ever convicted in the first place,” Givens said in the release. “This is yet another tragic example of the unreliability of eyewitness identifications. We’re relieved and grateful that Governor Northam granted the absolute pardon, but we remain troubled by how long this process took.”
In Virginia, pardon decisions are made by the governor, though the Virginia Parole Board may be consulted.
An absolute pardon is granted when the governor is convinced that the petitioner is innocent of the charge for which he or she was convicted. To be eligible, the petitioner must have pleaded not guilty throughout the judicial process and exhausted all forms of judicial appeals and other remedies, including a writ of actual innocence.
An absolute pardon differs from the more common simple pardon, which is a statement of official forgiveness that does not remove the conviction from the record. Though rare, a conditional pardon also can be granted and acts to modify or end a sentence imposed by the court.