A Conversation on Wrongful Imprisonment

TUE, NOV 21, 2017 (00:00)

Spurred by the reporting at NECIR comes this conversation about wrongful imprisonment. An in-depth panel of experts representing diverse viewpoints consider: What does society owe the wrongfully imprisoned? How many other innocent people might currently be serving time?

Victor Rosario of Lowell was convicted for an arson that killed eight people in 1982. Rosario’s advocates questioned the evidence and, after investigative reporters shed light on his case, prosecutors abandoned efforts last month to keep him in prison — but not until he spent three decades there.

+ BIO: Victor Rosario

Rosario was convicted of arson and eight murders; he was sentenced to life in prison. Investigations by the police into the cause of the fire made up the majority of the evidence against Rosario, but we’re fundamentally flawed. Years after his conviction, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting began an investigation into the original findings. Their investigation found egregious flaws in the methods and conclusions that convicted Rosario. Among these discrepancies were findings that the police assumed from the start that the fire was arson, burn patterns that could not have conclusively been caused by arson, and no accelerants, bottle glass, or other physical evidence of the three Molotov cocktails was discovered at the scene.

There was also the issue of Rosario’s legal representation, who made little effort to refute the evidence provided. He did not call any expert witnesses to challenge the claims of the investigation.Just days before Rosario’s trial he was the driver involved a vehicular manslaughter charge, which resulted in the death of two people. On July 7, 2014, a Superior Court judge voided the conviction and ordered a new trial. Victor was released on Bond on July 10th.

Read more about him at the New England Innocence Project.

+ BIO: Lisa Kavanaugh

Prior to becoming Director of the CPCS Innocence Program. in 2002, Lisa Kavanaugh spent 9 years handling superior court trials and appeals.

Lisa has supported dozens of innocence cases by winning and administering federal grant funds to pay for experts and investigators needed to establish innocence, often where the trial courts had already refused requests for funding. She has also formed partnerships with law schools, law firms, the New England Innocence Project and other institutions to improve the quality of post-conviction litigation.

+ BIO: Richard Lehr

Professor Lehr is a veteran journalist and author who worked at the Boston Globe for nearly two decades, where he was primarily an investigative reporter but also served as a magazine, legal affairs and feature writer. He has won numerous national and regional journalism and book awards, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting.

+ BIO: Jenifer McKim

Jenifer McKim is a Senior Investigative Reporter and Senior Trainer at NECIR who focuses on social issues. Her stories on child fatalities and the state Department of Children and Families were awarded 2016 and 2014 Publick Occurrences awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association and a 2016 Freedom of Information Award from the New England First Amendment Coalition. She was awarded a 2015 Publick Occurrences award for her stories on homeowner debt following the Great Recession.

McKim is a 2008 fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She started her journalism career at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico and speaks fluent Spanish.

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