Written by WCPO’s Taylor Nimmo
The City of Newport has finalized a record-breaking settlement for a man’s wrongful murder conviction.
In 1988, William Virgil was convicted of murdering Retha Welch following a trial based entirely on circumstantial evidence. He spent 28 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him. The now finalized settlement is for $28 million — $1 million for each year he spent in prison.
Virgil sued the city and police in 2016 for wrongful conviction. His civil trial had been set for 2021 but was delayed so officers could appeal. Virgil died in January 2022, before the trial began.
Elliot Slosar, Virgil’s attorney, said the day causes a mixture of emotions. He said they are celebrating that Virgil’s family has received some measure of justice, but noted how heartbreaking it is he won’t be here to see it.
“William couldn’t live long enough to see justice,” he said. “William as a human being and William’s case will have caused significant change in the criminal justice system.”
Slosar said Virgil’s case shined a light on racial injustice.
“Officers went out of their way to bury evidence that implicated white suspects,” Slosar said. “And that left them with the ability to prosecute a Black man for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Newport’s city manager, Tom Fromme told WCPO: “We strongly believe that the Newport Police Department actions and conduct were appropriate and professional. However, we felt it was prudent to settle this case due to the current climate of anti-police sentiment and that the case was over 35 years old.”
“Regardless of whatever statement the City of Newport puts out, certainly there isn’t a world where the Newport police officers that are on that force today are not going to learn lessons from how not to do things from this case,” Slosar said.
Slosar said he believes there’s still work that needs to be done. He said the criminal justice system is incredibly slow to fix wrongful convictions.
“The system prioritizes finality with verdicts much more than it does the truth and newly discovered evidence and William’s case is a tragic example of what happens when the system moves too slow,” he said. “Yeah, you know, things were fixed here. William was exonerated. But he only had six years left in his life.”
While the settlement is finalized with the city, there’s still a pending lawsuit remaining against Cincinnati and Norwood, who were also involved in the investigation.
This story originally appeared at WCPO.com.