(photo credit: Peter Chermayeff) On the basis of statements signed while in the throes of delirium tremens, Mr. Rosario was convicted 32 years ago of a crime he did not commit. The police concede that, during the interrogation, Mr. Rosario had a mental breakdown during which he fell on the floor crying and screaming incoherently for at least twenty minutes. In that confused and highly suggestible state, he allegedly confessed that he and two friends had started a fire in a clapboard apartment house in Lowell that killed eight people. According to the statement, each of the men threw a Molotov cocktail into the building.
Notwithstanding that Mr. Rosario’s behavior in jail was so obviously psychotic that, two days after the interrogation, he was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital where he was kept for six weeks before he was judged competent to stand trial, the court found that his statements had been voluntary and reliable. As a result, in March 1983, Mr. Rosario was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. His two friends were also arrested and held until Mr. Rosario was released from the mental hospital. He could not remember what he had said during the interrogation and did not recognize the statements. Because the truth of the matter was neither he nor his friends had committed arson, he did not testify against his two friends. Since there was absolutely no evidence, apart from Mr. Rosario’s “confession” which was made while he was in a delusional state linking them to the fire, they were released without ever being indicted.
A nationally recognized arson expert has reviewed the testimony and reports prepared for Mr. Rosario’s case and found that the evidence cited by the prosecution witnesses was no more indicative of arson than of an accidental fire. In particular, the arson expert found that the total absence of any evidence of the remains of Molotov cocktails made it highly improbable that they were used to start the fire. It also would have been impossible for the eyewitness not to have seen the flaming wick of the Molotov cocktail when he passed the man who allegedly threw the cocktail that started the fire.
The prosecutor found a man who claimed he had passed the building just before it burst into flames. He had heard glass breaking and turned and seen a man standing in front of the building with his left arm in the air. (Mr. Rosario is right handed)The eyewitness testified that he did not see the man throw anything but, nonetheless, the prosecution argued that it was obvious the man had thrown a Molotov cocktail into the building. The eyewitness could not identify Mr. Rosario from a book of mug shots. However, after seeing a photograph of Mr. Rosario on the front page of the local newspaper under the banner headline 3 arrested in fatal fire; drugs revenge cited, the eyewitness then was able to make an identification after a little additional prodding by the police.
The defense attorney who had been arrested for vehicular homicide just before the trial and was, by his own admission, distracted by his own legal problems, failed to hire an arson expert who could have impeached the testimony of the prosecution experts and the conclusions regarding the Molotov cocktails. He also failed to obtain Mr. Rosario’s medical records from Bridgewater in which the examining forensic psychiatrist concluded that Mr. Rosario had been psychotic during the police interrogation. Thus, when the psychiatrist testified that he had no opinion as to Mr. Rosario’s mental state during the interrogation, the defense attorney was unable to impeach the doctor with his own prior statement.
Mr. Rosario was incarcerated in 1982. He presented his case to the parole board twice but was denied parole because he will not accept responsibility for a crime he did not commit.
Mr. Rosario has been ordained as a minister by Temple Baptist Church in Boston. He and his wife have incorporated an organization called Remember Those in Captivity Ministries. The purpose of the new organization is to help families of inmates stay in touch with the incarcerated and prepare for their release.
On July 7, 2014, a Superiot Court judge voided the conviction and ordered a new trial. Victor was released on Bond on July 10th. While the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is appealing the decision, we are highly optimistic that justice will prevail.
Read about the Rosario case in the Boston Globe.
Watch this video about the Rosario case.
Read Judge Tuttman’s decision.
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