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

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- His murder conviction was thrown out and he was released from prison in the last year thanks in large part to DNA testing that was not available when William Virgil was found guilty in the 1987 slaying of Retha Welch, a Veterans Administration nurse in Newport.

Now, as he prepares for a retrial, Virgil's attorneys are on the attack, claiming prosecutors and police "fabricated" evidence in the case to "successfully frame Mr. Virgil for murder."

Specifically, Virgil's attorneys are alleging that a jailhouse informant who told jurors Virgil confessed to him while the two shared a jail cell has recanted his testimony in a sworn affidavit this month, according to a motion filed Friday.

Joe Womack now says Virgil never confessed to him and information allegedly given to investigators by the former inmate was "fabricated by the hands of the trial prosecutor and Newport police officers," attorney Elliot Slosar said in the motion.

Slosar and the Kentucky Innocence Project are asking that the charges against Virgil be dismissed due to "prosecutorial misconduct." A hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.

"The evidence reveals that the prosecutor obtained Mr. Virgil's indictment and wrongful conviction by knowingly using false testimony," according to the motion. "In this case, the prosecutor not only knew the testimony was false, but he participated in manufacturing it."

Assistant Campbell County Attorney Adam, who is prosecuting Virgil now but was not involved in the initial trial, did not return a message seeking comment.

On April 11, 1987, Welch's body was found in a blood-filled bathtub of her Newport, Ky., apartment. She was reported to have been raped, stabbed repeatedly and bludgeoned with a vase. Her car and several items from her apartment were missing.

A judge threw out Virgil's conviction in December based on the findings from the Innocence Project, which include: DNA testing showed blood on Virgil's clothes did not belong to Welch and semen in her was not his; hairs found on Welch's clothing did not match Virgil; witnesses' stories no longer held up under scrutiny; and other suspects were ignored.

Prosecutors announced they would retry Virgil and have said there is other evidence still pointing to him being the killer. 

Womack told a grand jury in November 1987 that Virgil confessed he killed Welch, providing a detailed description of what happened. He then testified at the trial.

A police officer also testified in front of the grand jury about what Womack told him, adding that Womack knew details about the crime that only the killer would know.

However, on Aug. 19, Womack "admitted" to Virgil's defense attorneys that Virgil never confessed and "his statement was fabricated by the hands of police and prosecutors."

Womack now claims he initially told investigators Virgil had denied having anything to do with the murder, but Womack was then "sent to the hole" for 15 days.

Investigators "made it clear" to Womack that he would tell them Virgil confessed and he was given a statement to repeat, according to the motion.

Womack was given money and "rehearsed the false story" prior to testifying before the grand jury, according to the motion.

Womack even claims he was given "a cheat sheet" to study, including details about the murder, and went over his testimony with prosecutors. Investigators said they would help him get parole in exchange for his testimony, Womack alleges.

At trial, Womack denied getting any promise for help, he says, at the direction of police. He says police gave him $10 after his trial testimony.

After the trial, "letters were submitted on Mr. Womack's behalf to the parole board" and he was released, according to the motion. The former prosecutor in the Virgil case wrote to the parole board on behalf of Womack, telling them about his help during the trial, according to the motion.

Womack has repeatedly refused to talk to detectives in recent years because "he is afraid of the detectives and prosecutors involved in this case and refuses to lie for them against William Virgil," according to the motion.

"This conduct shocks the conscience and directly led to Mr. Virgil being wrongfully convicted for 29 years of his life," the motion says.

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