June 28th, 2010
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, click here.