Archive for July, 2014

Bad Science Goes up in Smoke

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

“Traditional theories about how fires burn had been developed over generations by firefighters who’d observed thousands of fire scenes. It wasn’t quantifiable theory, more a set of beliefs rooted in experience. But it carried the weight of fact. And as with any tradition in the close fraternity of firefighters, it was honored for the very fact that it represented the wisdom of veterans.”

Read the full post.

A First of its Kind Exoneration

Friday, July 25th, 2014

“Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ ongoing initiative to review untested rape kits revealed that Michael Phillips was innocent. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, this is the first time in the United States an exoneration of this nature has occurred…as a result of a district attorney’s systematic testing without active request by a defendant.”

“I Believe It’s a Heroic Calling”

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

The NCRJ brought the San Antonio Four case to the Innocence Project of Texas. Working with Mike Ware and Keith Hampton was a terrific experience. We congratulate them on this well deserved award and we look forward to continue working with them.

Victor Rosario is Free!

Friday, July 11th, 2014

photo credit: Peter Chermayeff

Few things gladden my heart as much as watching an innocent person walk free after many years of wrongful incarceration. I believe I’ve experienced this only four times.

Yesterday, I watched Victor Rosario walk free after 32 years of wrongful incarceration.

Victor’s sentence was voided on July 7th and a new trial was ordered by Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman. The Middlesex County District Attorney will appeal the decision, so the case is not over. But yesterday the judge released Rosario on bond.

The hearing at the Middlesex County Courthouse in Woburn, Massachusetts, began promptly at 10 a.m. It was a rather brief affair.

Rosario has been represented by attorney Andrea Petersen and by New England Innocence Project attorney, Lisa Kavanaugh. [Kavanaugh told me yesterday that she had once worked for National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) Advisor, Harvey Silverglate.] The Commonwealth was represented by Assistant DA Thomas O’Reilly.

In arguing for bond, Kavanaugh said that it was likely that Tuttman’s decision will prevail on appeal because of the sea changes that have occurred in our knowledge about fire forensics and about false confessions. She said that Rosario posed no security or flight risk. He would live with his wife Beverly at their home in Brighton, Massachusetts. Rosario was ordained as a Baptist minister while incarcerated and has been offered a part-time job at Boston’s Tremont Street Baptist Church. Rosario’s prison record was exemplary, with no violent interactions. He served as a leader, including a role as an assistant chaplain.

O’Reilly responded by reminding the judge of “the terrible events of March 5, 1982” when eight people, including five children, lost their lives.  he said that the Commonwealth still believes that Rosario was responsible and asks for a bond of at least $250,000.

Tuttman set the bond at $25,000. She acceded to O’Reilly’s request that Rosario wear a GPS monitor, that he be prohibited from drinking alcohol, that he remain in Massachusetts, and that he not apply for a passport.

There will be a status update on the case at 2 p.m. on January 13, 2015.

After the brief hearing, there was a wait of over three hours while bond was posted and Rosario met with the probation department. The media left except for a cameraman from Boston’s Channel 7 and another from a Spanish station.

After Channel 7 asked a question, Rosario burst into tears and sobbed for several minutes. His wife, Beverly,  and Andrea, who stood on either side of him, comforted him.

When he gained his composure, the other reporter asked him a question — in Spanish. Victor gave quite a long and eloquent reply — in Spanish.

After the brief press conference, Andrea and her husband, architect Peter Chermayeff, whisked Rosario and his wife away to their Brighton home. I was at least able to shake his hand. I also gave Beverly my phone number in hopes that Victor might call.

I also plan to attend Victor’s release party, which will take place at Andrea and Peter’s home on the afternoon on July 20th.

The NCRJ has every reason to be proud of this victory. As Andrea told me yesterday, they could never have won without the NCRJ’s help in obtaining (and paying for) expert witnesses.

It was also the NCRJ who brought this case to the attention of Dick Lehr and his graduate journalism students at Boston University. The articles they did for the Boston Globe were important in obtaining the involvement of the New England Innocence Project.

The NCRJ learned of this case in March of 2007 when I met Andrea Petersen at a Harvard conference sponsored by the New England Innocence Project. The NCRJ Board voted to sponsor the case on January 8, 2008.

Some background on the case.

An account in the Boston Globe.

-Bob Chatelle