Richard Rosario is currently in the 20th year of his 25-to-life sentence for the 1996 murder of 17-year-old Jorge Collazo. He has always insisted he did not commit the murder, as he was 1,000 miles away in Florida. Over the years, 13 alibi witnesses have come forward to confirm Rosario’s innocence, including a pastor, federal correctional officer, and sheriff’s deputy. But it did nothing for Rosario as he has spent two decades behind bars.
But on Tuesday, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office revealed to NBC News that it would ask a judge to knock out Rosario’s case.
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The spokeswoman for the DA’s office, Darcel D. Clark, said the conviction would be vacated and moves would be made to release Rosario from prison “after a review had showed that he did not receive a fair trial.”
For many years, former Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson had stood by Rosario’s guilty conviction and urged the appellate courts to staunchly stand by it. But when Clark assumed office on January 1, 2016, she swore to upturn all wrongful convictions during her tenure in office and started with the Rosario case.
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The DA’s office said plans were already in motion to bring Rosario from the Eastern Correctional Facility, New York for an appearance in court as early as Wednesday.
The welcome news comes barely 48 hours before the premiere of a documentary series Conviction, produced by Dateline NBC, which investigates the lengthy and warped history of the Rosario case. In 2014, during the shooting of the documentary, producer Dan Slepian met nine of the alibi witnesses who said they were never contacted by anyone from the Bronx District’s attorney’s office or NYPD.
Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman of The Exoneration Initiative, a non-governmental organization that probes into claims of innocent people in jail, said they were overjoyed at the news that Rosario was getting a measure of justice after being denied freedom for over 20 years.
Rosario has stuck to his story for 20 years; it has never changed once.
According to him, he was on a Greyhound bus in Deltona, Florida, headed back to New York to clear what he innocently thought was a misunderstanding, when he called his mother and was told that NYPD detectives wanted to talk to him about a murder.
Once he got home, Rosario said he placed a called to detectives at the 43rd precinct, emphasizing that he had no clue about the murder but would show up at the station the next day to answer whatever questions they might have for him. Instead, the detectives came to the family Bronx apartment that same day to cart him to the station.
Two eyewitnesses picked him out of a lineup, identifying him as the one who shot Collazo June 19 in 1996. Rosario gave a detailed statement to detectives providing names, addresses, and phone numbers of alibis that could account for his whereabouts on the day of the murder, including his friend John and pregnant wife Jeannie, who gave birth on the 20th.
Rosario said he was with the couple for a few days and celebrated with them when the newborn arrived with other friends.
He said, “I didn’t expect to be in jail for another day. I figure they’d make a few calls and I’d be released that evening.”
Detectives refused to follow up on any of his alibi witnesses, and with no evidence save for dodgy eyewitnesses who pointed to him in a lineup and tied him to the murder of Collazo, a 21-year-old father.
During Rosario’s conviction in a state court, he challenged the competence of his lawyers who did not send an investigator to Florida to verify his story. But the judge ruled against him that his lawyers had represented him “skillfully and with integrity” and that not sending someone to check up on his story was a “misunderstanding and not deliberate.”
Richard Rosario hopes to be reunited with his daughter and son, who were 3 and 2-years-old, respectively, when he was locked up.
[Image via Shutterstock/sebra]