Victor Rosario Attempted to Save the Victims of a House Fire, But Instead Was Wrongfully Convicted of Causing Their Accidental Deaths
LOWELL, MA – Victor Rosario, a man who spent 32 years, more than half of his life in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, today filed state and federal lawsuits against Lowell, MA police and firemen who he said framed him for the arson deaths of eight people in a March 1982 house fire.
Rosario’s suit alleges the detectives used “outright lies, coercion, threats, mistreatment, and sleep deprivation” to force Mr. Rosario into signing a false confession written in English, even though Mr. Rosario wasn’t literate in that language.
Detectives withheld exculpatory physical and other evidence showing that the fire was almost certainly accidental, rather than arson, and that an alleged witness failed to identify Rosario in a photo array and gave a very different physical description of a possible suspect. Both the Massachusetts State Crime Lab and the FBI confirmed that there was no physical evidence of arson as alleged by the police, and explicitly told them that.
Other exculpatory evidence withheld from Rosario’s defense team included other possible suspects identified by the police for the alleged arson, such as a death threat that someone made against one of the fire victims. In addition, Lowell investigators later wrote a book about their arson investigations that revealed that they had a financial incentive from insurers to conclude that arson was the cause of fires, but they did not disclose that fact to Mr. Rosario’s defense.
According to the suit, “To bolster their fabricated theory about the use of Molotov cocktails, Defendants staged the basement [of Rosario’s apartment building] to look like there were Miller beer bottles with the gas can and paint can (tipped over) and took photographs of that staged scene. In fact, when [the landlord] took police to the basement, he did not see a beer bottle near his gas can and paint, nor did [he] see the scene that was photographed to make it look like it could have been used to make Molotov cocktails.”
Besides withholding evidence, detectives took the additional step of manufacturing fake evidence, producing an alleged witness statement written in English, even though the “witness” neither wrote nor spoke the language.
Taken into custody on March 7, 1982 and eventually sentenced to nine concurrent life sentences and imprisoned 32 years, in July 2014 a Superior Court judge vacated Rosario’s convictions, granted him a new trial, and ordered him freed on bond. Prosecutors appealed, but on May 11, 2017, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld an order granting Rosario a new trial. On September 8, 2017 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts finally dropped all charges against Rosario. At every stage of his imprisonment and in his testimony at his trial, Mr. Rosario insisted on his innocence.
Besides being forcibly separated from his wife, Beverly, for 26 years, Mr. Rosario missed the entire young adulthoods of his four children, and almost their entire childhoods, as they were ages 2, 5, 6 and 8 at the time of his arrest. He missed the companionship of friends and other family, especially that of his elderly mother and father, the latter with whom he had an especially close relationship, but who died shortly after Mr. Rosario’s release from prison.
Key players in Mr. Rosario’s fight for his freedom included the New England Innocence Project, Lisa Kavanaugh, Director of the Committee for Public Counsel Services Innocence Program, Dr. Judith Edersheim of the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, and John Lentini and Craig Beyler, preeminent experts in the field of arson investigations who assisted Mr. Rosario pro bono because they believed in his innocence.
Mr. Rosario is represented by Arthur Loevy, Debra Loevy, Jon Loevy, Mark Loevy-Reyes, Gayle Horn, Tara Thompson and Steve Art of the civil rights firm Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.