At 1:00 a.m. on March 5, 1982, the deadliest fire in the history of Lowell, MA raged on in a three story apartment building, killing eight people. No more than 48 hours later, the police made Victor Rosario, a 24-year-old bystander at the scene, into their prime suspect. After five hours of questioning, the police were able to obtain a signed statement by Rosario admitting that he, along with two friends, started the fatal fire. Within a year, Rosario, convicted of arson and eight murders, was sentenced to life in prison.
On July 7, 2014, with the help of the CPCS Innocence Program, Victor Rosario was acquitted, and the arson and murder convictions were overturned. Wednesday at Boston College, Rosario will be sharing his personal journey of wrongful imprisonment, faith, and exoneration. Sponsored by the Boston College Innocence Program, the event is scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. in Gasson 305.
The event is the brainchild of Maisey Horn, MCAS '17, and Kayla Fries, MCAS '17, who are interning at the Innocence Project at the BC Law School, and Professor Sharon Beckman, the director of the program. Rosario, along with his attorneys, Lisa Kavanaugh and Andrea Petersen, will speak on the legal and personal aspects of the case, while leaving ample time for questions from the audience.
While the cases of wrongful conviction seem to only exist in crime shows and courtroom dramas, the reality is that they are fairly prevalent in the United States. A few studies estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of U.S. prisoners are innocent--at least 55,200 inmates.
Horn hopes that the event will raise awareness and that Rosario’s story will inspire the audience to get involved with helping wrongfully convicted individuals and reforming the criminal justice system.
She also wishes for the event to bring attention to the work done by the BC Law School Innocence Program, as well as the national and regional Innocence Projects in fighting the misdoings of the criminal justice system.
“Kayla and I are also in the process of creating an undergraduate Innocence Club to further raise awareness and offer any support we can to the Innocence movement,” said Horn. “We would like to let other undergraduates know about the, hopefully, soon-to-be club if they are interested in getting involved.”
As interns in the Innocence Clinic, Horn and Fries currently help the law students sift through and organize numerous case files. Horn attributes the eye-opening experience to how hands-on their work is: “Getting to dive into potential cases and learn about the legal process not just for overturning a wrongful conviction, but the original trials that led to the wrongful conviction has been invaluable. It is so different than reading a newspaper article or textbook,” Horn explained.
“Actually reading trial transcripts, looking at photos, and hearing about meetings with clients in prison has ignited a passion in both Kayla and me to do what we can as juniors at BC to help.”