Police Fabricated Witness Identification and Other Evidence to Frame then 26-Year Old for Assault and Burglary
After spending almost 16 years wrongfully imprisoned for crimes he didn’t commit, today a Worcester, MA man, Natale “Nat” Cosenza, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Worcester and eight current or former Worcester police officers. Worcester police are accused of withholding evidence, falsifying and destroying physical evidence, and fabricating a false identification of Mr. Cosenza that led to his wrongful conviction of assault and battery and armed burglary.
Today’s lawsuit alleges that when police learned shortly after the crime that Mr. Cosenza lived in the apartment complex where it occurred, they stopped investigating. Instead took steps, including prompting the victim to mistakenly identify Mr. Cosenza, and withholding and manipulating evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Cosenza, to frame Cosenza for this crime. With the assistance of the CPCS Innocence Program, Mr. Cosenza was able to overturn his conviction after years of imprisonment, and now seeks to hold those responsible for his wrongful conviction accountable.
On May 31, 2016, the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts vacated Mr. Cosenza’s conviction and ordered that he receive a new trial. On August 28, 2017, following an evidentiary hearing that included testimony from an expert on the science of eyewitness identification, the Superior Court suppressed the victim’s false identification of Mr. Cosenza, ruling that the identification procedure police used was “unduly suggestive.”
Mr. Cosenza and his family and attorneys will speak at a 2 pm press conference today at the office of his local attorneys, Wood & Nathanson, LLP, 50 Congress Street, Suite 600, Boston.
In the early morning hours of August 14, 2000, Mr. Cosenza’s neighbor, a single woman who was alone in her condominium, fought off an attacker in her bedroom. She told police that her attacker had something covering part of his head, and was unable to give much of a description of the man other than that she did not know him. At that time, Mr. Cosenza lived in the same condominium complex, was 26 years old and had two young daughters.
Police quickly learned that Mr. Cosenza was her neighbor, and without any reason to believe he was the attacker in this case, decided to show the victim a set of photographs (called a photo array) that included his photograph and a number of “filler” photographs of people meant to look like Mr. Cosenza. During this photo array the police told the victim that she needed to identify someone, and they told her that the suspected attacker’s photograph was in the photos they were going to show her. They also told her Mr. Cosenza’s name, and reminded her that he lived in her complex. They suggested she identify Mr. Cosenza and she did, not because she recognized him, but because of the police’s efforts to encourage her to select him. They then arrested Mr. Cosenza and charged him with this crime.
The police pursued the case against Mr. Cosenza while destroying , manipulating, or ignoring evidence in the case that showed that Mr. Cosenza was innocent. This evidence includes a pair of men’s shorts found in the victim’s apartment (her attacker was not wearing pants) that had DNA on them that did not match Mr. Cosenza or any of the men who had reason to be in the condominium. Police also destroyed what appeared to be the weapon used in the assault without examining it for forensic evidence, and they destroyed fingerprints that were left in the apartment by the attacker.
What the Case Means
Attorney Jon Loevy explains: “The police never really tried to solve this crime. They didn’t like Nat, and when they found out he lived nearby, that ended the investigation. They knew if they could convince this victim to identify Nat the case would be over, and they made sure she did. When police cut corners and are not honest, innocent people are convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, and that happened here.”
Chauncey Wood, also counsel for Mr. Cosenza, says: “What Nat suffered during his almost 16 years in prison is unthinkable. While he was literally fighting for his life in some of Massachusetts’ toughest prisons, his young daughters grew up without a father. Nat’s own father received a cancer diagnosis just before Nat finally came home. We look forward to getting justice for Nat and his family for everything they endured.”
Mr. Cosenza’s now-adult daughter, Alisia Cosenza, adds: “There is no short explanation that justifies the dramatic impact on my life during the time my father was taken away from me. Sixteen years of my father being in prison had negative effects on my emotions, school, friendships, and more. Regardless of the positive relationship my Dad and I shared, communicating through glass, letters, and collect calls was never easy. My father is a victim of injustice, and as left behind children, my sister and I are too.”
Mr. Cosenza noted the support he has received and spoke about his future plans: “After I was released from prison I was given the opportunity to join Iron Workers Local 7. In September of 2016, I entered their apprenticeship program where I am not only being trained, I have been given a career that I can utilize for the rest of my life. While nothing can replace the eighteen years that I lost, I can now look forward to retiring with dignity thanks to these brothers and sisters. These are the people who welcomed me to stand with them and did not unjustly hold my past against me. I would like to say thanks to those who could see past these circumstances and have faith in me.”
Mr. Cosenza is represented in his suit by Attorney Chauncey Wood of Wood & Nathanson, LLP in Boston, and by Attorneys Jon Loevy, Debra Loevy, Gayle Horn, Tara Thompson and Steve Art of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms, and over the past decade has won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country. A copy of the suit, Natale Cosenza v. City of Worcester, et al., No. 1:18-cv-10936, is available here.