Monday, June 28, 2010

Boston Globe Article Shines Light on Injustice in Massachusetts

March 5, 1982: the deadliest fire in Lowell, MA's history takes the lives of 8 people.
March 7, 1982: Victor Rosario, a 24 year old bystander, was named the prime suspect. Hours after that, Rosario signed a confession stating he and two others threw Molotov cocktails into the building, starting the blaze.

A recent Boston Globe article focuses on the shortcomings of the prosecution's case against Rosario.

Although Rosario signed a confession, the translator who assisted with the interrogation now says that Rosario was delusional at the time. Dr. Judith Edershiem, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed with the case, opined that Rosario was suffering from alcohol withdrawal, resulting in delirium tremens ("DT's"). An examination revealed that Rosario had severe liver damage; at the time of the interrogation he had gone 48 hours without a drink. Dr. Alison Fife, a forensic psychiatrist who examined all the evidence from the interrogation, claims that the interview should have been stopped. Fife observed that Rosario was not making sense and seemed "out of control."

There are also shortcomings with the fire science used in Rosario's case. Even though he "confessed" to using Molotov cocktails, no accelerant was found at the scene of the fire. John Lentini, a prominent fire scientist, stated that if Molotov cocktails were used, there would be physical evidence of them. “It’s hard to break a beer bottle; the neck almost never breaks because it’s small and compact, and the bottom is usually in one piece,’’ said Lentini. “If they were there, they would’ve found them.’’

Arson experts who reexamined the evidence believe that the fire could have been started accidentally. The police experts cited the fire's speed, two points of origin, and certain patterns of charring as evidence of arson. But fire experts today and the National Fire Protection Association 921 Manual both state that the evidence cited is consistent with an accidental fire.

The new fire investigators say it's possible that a space heater could have been the cause of the fire. The heater was located between three rooms that had the most burn damage.

The Globe article also points out other significant shortcomings in Rosario's case, including suspect eyewitness testimony and problems with Rosario's defense attorney.

Victor Rosario, 52, has now spent more of his life in jail than out. He has filed two unsuccessful appeals. The New England Innocence Project and The CPCS Innocence Program have joined together to support Boston attorneys Andrea Petersen and Esther Horwitz in challenging this conviction.

To read the entire Globe article, go here:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conviction Movie

Conviction, a movie based on the incredible true story of NEIP exoneree Kenny Waters and his sister Betty Anne, is set to be released October 15, 2010. The movie stars Hilary Swank as Betty Anne Waters. After her brother was wrongly convicted of murder and robbery, sentenced to life in prison, and had exhausted all of his appeals, Betty Anne determined it was up to her to save her brother. A mother of two small boys, Betty Anne worked tirelessly for her brother's cause, earning her GED, Bachelor's Degree, and finally a law degree in the hopes of exonerating Kenny. She worked with Innocence Project and NEIP attorneys to prove Kenny's innocence.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Questioning the Validity of Arson Science

The well accepted fire science that convicted George Souliotes in 1997 is now coming under question. Souliotes, a Greek immigrant, was convicted of arson that killed three people including two children in Modesto, CA. He was the landlord of the building.

Arson investigations have recently come to the forefront after the execution of Todd Willingham in Texas in 2004. The fire deemed arson in Willingham's case seems now to be probably accidental. Because of this, many fire scientists have begun to review old cases to see if questionable science is convicting innocent people.

The science started to unravel because of the1992 groundbreaking guide by the National Fire Protection Association. The report is now widely embraced, but some experts still retain their old beliefs. The report shows that some assumptions about arson science are now known to be false. For example, conditions thought only to be present in arson cases have now been confirmed as typical in accidental cases, too: including melted steel and glass etched tiny cracks.

John Lentini, a prominent fire scientist who testified for Souliotes', says that a sizable number of experts still "don't want to admit they were doing it wrong."

Souliotes' fate rests on the forthcoming decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will soon decide whether to reexamine the case. The Northern California Innocence Project has taken on Souliotes' case. Souliotes' sister, Aleka Pantazis, 63 has also helped to bring attention to his case. Souliotes' lawyers argue that arson investigators misinterpreted the evidence at the scene.

The prosecution claimed that substance on Souliotes' shoes matched the compound that started the fire. But, Lentini says they do not have a common origin, and now the prosecutors are not disputing this.

In the meantime, all Soulites and his sister can do is wait for the decision to be handed down. Pantazis says, "what I live for is to see the day my brother will walk out. Whatever years he has left, at least he will be free."

Dolan, Maura. "13 Years Later, an Arson Case Begins to Unravel" Los Angeles Times. May, 31 2010.,0,2851484,full.story