Massachusetts Man Who Served 30 Years For Arson Sues For Wrongful Conviction

A Massachusetts man who served thirty years in prison for setting a fatal fire in 1982 is now suing the police officers and firefighters who were responsible for what he claims was his wrongful conviction.

Victor Rosario was convicted of arson and murder for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house in Lowell that killed eight people. The New England Innocence Project spearheaded by attorney Andrea Petersen took up his case, and his conviction was reversed in 2014. More on the NEIP.

Rosario is now suing the City of Lowell, several former Lowell police officers, former Lowell Fire Department investigator William M. Gilligan, additional unnamed members of the Lowell Fire Department, and a former state trooper alleging violations of the 5th and 14th Amendments, malicious prosecution, conspiracy to violation his civil rights, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiff Victor Rosario was wrongly accused and convicted of arson and the murders of eight people who died in the fire attributed to the arson. The fire occurred on Decatur Street in Lowell, Massachusetts in March 1982.
  • Plaintiff did not commit the crime.
  • There was no legitimate evidence connecting Plaintiff to the fire. In fact, all of the evidence suggested that he had come upon the fire after it had started and had unsuccessfully tried to save the people inside the home.
  • There was also no reliable evidence that the fire was even caused by arson. To the contrary, all signs pointed to the fire being accidental.
  • Nonetheless, Defendants fabricated evidence in order to quickly “solve” a high-profile tragedy. In particular, they fabricated a false narrative that Plaintiff and two brothers, Felix and Gardo Garcia, each threw a burning Molotov cocktail into the building. The Defendants did so despite the fact that no physical evidence supported their theory. Among other things, there was no evidence of the use of an incendiary device or of fire accelerant present at the scene. It was well known at the time, including by Defendants, that the use of a Molotov cocktail would leave telltale evidence at the scene of a fire, but none was found at the scene of this fire.
  • To support their false story, Defendants coerced and fabricated a purported “confession” from Plaintiff. Statements attributed to Plaintiff were coerced by Defendants, who used well-known illegal tactics during their interrogation of Plaintiff such as outright lies, coercion, threats, mistreatment, and sleep deprivation. Finally Plaintiff was given a statement written in English, which he could not read and the contents of which were not told to him, and forced to sign it with false promises that only if he signed it could he go home. Moreover, it was obvious to Defendants at the time of the “confession” that Plaintiff was in an extremely deteriorated mental state—which the Defendants unlawfully exploited to close the case.
  • In order to ensure that Plaintiff would be charged and prosecuted, Defendants also fabricated an eyewitness identification to fit their theory of the fire.
  • Based on the force of the fabricated evidence and Plaintiff’s false confession, Plaintiff was charged, prosecuted, and wrongly convicted of arson and multiple murders. He was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences. Plaintiff was condemned to die in prison for something he had not done.
  • On September 8, 2017, after Plaintiff had spent more than three decades behind bars, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dropped all charges against him.
  • Plaintiff now seeks justice for the harm that Defendants caused and redress for the loss of liberty and the terrible hardship that Plaintiff has endured and continues to suffer as a result of Defendants’ misconduct.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Rosario v Waterhouse COMPLAINT

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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