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A Lowell man who spent more than three decades in prison before he was formally exonerated has filed lawsuits in state and federal court against the city and several police officers.
Victor Rosario was convicted in 1983 for setting a Lowell home on fire that killed five children and three adults. A judge overturned his case in 2014 after finding that advances in forensic evidence disproved that the fire was arson.
However, Rosario's lawyers said there was no evidence that their client started the fire. In fact, they say there's no evidence it was even arson.
"There was no accelerant. There was no evidence of glass that had been burned using a Molotov cocktail, which was the police's theory," said Mark Loevy-Reyes, one of Rosario's attorneys.
In the 1980s, Loevy-Reyes claims arson investigators would receive grants from insurance companies if they found a fire to have been an arson. None of this was made known to the defense at the time, he added.
Rosario's lawyers said they are looking into similar misconduct in other investigations conducted by the Lowell police and fire department. The attorneys said they have already found several cases.
The Lowell Police Department and the city's attorney declined to comment on the case.
Loevy-Reyes said evidence in the case was only one of many problems.
Another concern, Loevy-Reyes said, was that Rosario gave a coerced confession. He said his client was not fully aware of what was happening during his interrogation because at the time he was going through severe alcohol withdrawal and sleep deprivation.
Rosario said he didn't remember the interrogation when it was happening.
"Can you remember yourself witnessing a fire and children screaming in the house?" he said in an interview with WBUR Thursday. "Would that not traumatize a person? I think I was traumatized."
Rosario's lawyers also said police detectives took advantage of their client's limited English skills and had him write a statement that he didn't understand.
"He was told that if he signed it, he would be free to go,"Loevy-Reyes said. "Of course it would be 32 years before he was free."
As Rosario prepares for trial, he said that he lamented all the memories that he missed while in prison.
"The time that I lost. The people that I lost. My children no grow up with me," he said. "[The city] will never pay for that."
But Rosario said he looks forward to the case. There will be something different about seeing the same detectives in court again.
"Before, they [brought] me [to court]. Now I [bringing] them."
This segment aired on March 22, 2019.
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