March 24, 2016
New York City Man Released From Wrongful Conviction After 20 Years in Prison. 13 Alibi Witnesses Ignored By Prosecutors
Richard Rosario, 40
A man walked free after 20 years in prison Wednesday, released from a Bronx courtroom after prosecutors conceded that long-ignored murder alibi evidence needs to be reinvestigated.
Richard Rosario — who at age 40 has literally spent half his life in prison — credited his long-awaited good fortune to his lawyers at the Exoneration Initiative and to the NBC news program “Dateline,” which has a new digital series on his case.
Rosario has insisted since his arrest that 13 alibi witnesses could prove he was in Florida at the time of the 1996 murder.
“I’ve been in prison for 20 years for a crime I didn’t commit,” Rosario tearfully told Bronx Supreme Court Justice Robert Torres, moments before the judge vacated his murder conviction and ordered him released without bail.
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“My family didn’t deserve this. I didn’t deserve this, and nor did the family of the victim,” Rosario told the judge. “I hope that this conviction is not just vacated, but exoneration is given to me and my family for this crime.”
Outside court, a jubilant-looking Rosario said he was “Just feeling the moment.”
He added, “I love my lawyers. Now can I leave?”
While Rosario’s conviction has been tossed, he remains charged in the broad-daylight murder of a 16-year-old boy on a Bronx street in June 1996.
He’s been set free pending the Bronx DA’s investigation into the credibility of his 13 alibi witnesses, who said from the start that he was in Florida when victim George Collazo was shot point-blank in the face during an argument.
No forensics or physical evidence linked Rosario to the murder. But he was convicted after two witnesses identified him from a police mugshot book.
Immediately upon hearing he was being sought, and right before turning himself in, Rosario made a list of 13 people who’d seen him in Deltona, Fla., at the time of the murder.
But the police never contacted those people, his lawyers say. And even his own court-appointed attorneys failed to make contact with any of the alibi witnesses, save for the couple he was staying with.
While the couple did testify at Rosario’s trial, the trial prosecutor told jurors they were tainted by their close friendship with Rosario. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.