KY Innocence Project claims prosecutors, police 'fabricated' evidence against man in 1987 murder

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Nearly three decades after he was jailed for the brutal murder of a Veterans Administration nurse in Newport, recently tested DNA evidence proves William "Ricky" Virgil was wrongly convicted, according to the Kentucky Innocence Project.

Attorneys for the Frankfort-based Innocence Project will ask a Campbell County Circuit Court judge on Friday to throw out Virgil’s 1988 conviction and 70-year prison sentence and release him, or at least grant a new trial.

The motion is based, in part, on recently discovered hairs – which had been misfiled in a forensic lab – that were found on the victim, Retha Welch, and do not match Virgil.

This comes after an argument in February that DNA testing of blood stains found on Virgil’s tennis shoes and sweatshirt were not Welch’s.

“This evidence proves what Mr. Virgil has been proclaiming for the past 29 years -- that he did not commit the crime for which he stands convicted,” the motion states.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Virgil acted alone in raping and killing Welch. However, there were three separate DNA profiles from the hairs found on Welch -- none of them matching Virgil, according to the motion.

"It shakes the very foundation upon which the prosecution chose to indict Mr. Virgil and the underpinnings upon which the jury based their decision to convict," the Innocence Project argues.

Virgil, who is in the Kentucky State Reformatory, has consistently maintained his innocence, rejecting a plea bargain and taking the case to trial.

As part of its motion, the Innocence Project has also requested all police reports in the case be turned over to them so they can investigate “alternate suspects.”

Assistant Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Adam Hill, who is handling the Virgil case, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Welch’s body was found in a blood-filled bathtub in her Newport apartment on April 13, 1987, according to a February story by the Cincinnati Enquirer. She had been bludgeoned with a ceramic vase, stabbed 22 times and cut four times on the neck before being placed in the bathtub, the newspaper reported. 

Virgil was initially identified by Welch’s boyfriend, who claimed he saw Virgil outside her apartment days before her body was discovered, according to the Enquirer.

While Virgil acknowledged he had a relationship with Welch, he denied having anything to do with her murder.

The Kentucky Innocence Project requested DNA evidence from Virgil's case be tested in 2010, but at the time, that testing was only available for death row inmates in Kentucky.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing such testing for other inmates serving time for violent felonies.

Virgil, 63, will be eligible for parole in September 2016, but his sentence will not be up until December 2036, at the earliest.

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