Wrongly Imprisoned Man Discusses Serving 32 Years Behind Bars

After being wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and arson, Victor Rosario was released from prison. He spoke in Devlin 008 last night about his experience. Rosario’s lawyer, Andrea Petersen, and her partner, Lisa Kavanaugh, also spoke.

“How many of you have 32 years?” Rosario asked. “I’m just asking because for 32 years, I have been behind the wall.”

In 1982, there was a fire in Lowell, Mass., that killed eight people. In an article in The Lowell Sun, Rosario was identified as having started the fire, along with two other men named Edgardo and Felix Garcia. The witness claimed that the men tossed Molotov cocktails into the building to start it. When he was interrogated, Rosario confessed to committing the crime.

There were several flaws in the evidence against Rosario. His lawyer, however, provided a feeble defensive argument at the time because he was facing his own personal legal problems. The lawyer was being charged for vehicular homicide, as he was driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed and killed another person.Thus, Rosario searched for another lawyer to defend him in court. Rosario then came across Petersen, who accepted the job. Petersen described how Rosario persuaded her to help him

The first time he asked her, she refused, and insisted that he find another lawyer to take the case. The second time they met, however, he told her the story of Solomon in the Bible.

Petersen was confused as to how that story related to their current situation. Rosario explained that because Petersen was willing to give the case to someone else, he knew that she believed the case was important. Petersen told the audience that that was the moment when she accepted the task of defending Rosario.


“I want a wife, I want a house, I want a job. That was my dream. And who was going to take that dream away from me? Only me. Only I can throw that dream away.”

—Victor Rosario, wrongly convicted of second-degree murder


 

Petersen then explained that the two main pieces of evidence were the witness identification and the cause of the fire—both of which Petersen found to be flawed.

She described her search for ways to prove that this evidence was not true. While doing so, she realized that she needed to find a way to invalidate Rosario’s confession.

Thus, she ventured to find a psychiatrist who could find a reason why Rosario would have been unable to provide truthful responses when he was interrogated. Finally, she found one who uncovered a piece of information that turned out to be crucial to the case.

At the time of his confession, Rosario was experiencing tremors due to alcohol withdrawal. Thus, it could be argued that he did not know what was going on when he was interrogated by the police.

Petersen spoke about the immense difficulty she encountered with this case, but that Rosario’s positive attitude helped her to continue working.

“It was Victor’s compassion, his conviction, his faith that got me through this case,” she said.

Kavanaugh began by saying that the first time she looked at the case, she knew it looked just like any textbook example of a wrongful conviction case. Thus, she worked with Petersen on how to present their information regarding Rosario’s innocence in court.

“My work on this case took the form of really trying to make this vivid for the judge,” Kavanaugh said, pointing to some of the visual aids she had created on her PowerPoint.

She went on to discuss the new evidence they presented, and said that the day they won the motion was one of her greatest moments in life.

Rosario focused on what it was like during the time he spent in prison. According to him, hope for a brighter future played an enormous role in his attitude while he was behind bars.

“I want a wife, I want a house, I want a job,” he said. “That was my dream. And who was going to take that dream away from me? Only me. Only I can throw that dream away.”

He directed the audience’s attention to his wife, who was sitting in the front row. He acknowledged her as one of his sources of hope while he was in prison, and explained that they did their best to stay faithful during their 20-minute phone calls.

During those 32 years, he trained for a marathon, married his wife, and was ordained a minister. As he concluded his lecture, he spoke directly to his listeners.

“You are the future, and I know that you can change the system,” he said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor