The final chapter in the 25-year saga that began with the rape and murder of a Culpeper woman may be written soon.
The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that the state has agreed to pay $1.9 million to Earl Washington Jr., the mildly retarded man who falsely confessed to the murder of 19-year-old Rebecca Lynn Williams.
The settlement is still subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon. Washington won a $2.25 million jury award last year in federal court in Charlottesville, but the case is on appeal.
By the time of trial, the only defendant left was the estate of Virginia State Police Investigator Curtis Reese Wilmore, who died in 1994. Under the instructions the jury received, it had to believe that Wilmore fabricated Washington’s confession. That was a very bitter pill for the family of Wilmore, who enjoyed a strong reputation for integrity, and his attorney, William G. Broaddus.
Broaddus said Wilmore was the most diligent of all law enforcement officials involved in the investigation in pointing out the inconsistencies between Washington’s “confession” and other evidence that contradicted it. Those inconsistencies and DNA testing that was not available when he was arrested in 1982 eventually led to his exoneration.
In part because of the concerns of Broaddus and Wilmore’s family, the jury verdict will be set aside.
Risk also appeared to drive the settlement. If the verdict had been upheld on appeal, Washington would have been entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees in addition to the verdict. On the other hand, the state’s risk-management plan has a $2 million cap, and a question remained over whether the state has an obligation to indemnify what the jury found to be the willful misconduct of one of its agents.