Victor Rosario, a Massachusetts man who was wrongfully convicted of setting a fire that killed eight people, is set to receive a $13 million settlement from the city where he was arrested. The 65-year-old Rosario, who spent 32 years in prison, expressed forgiveness towards those who wronged him and is looking to move forward in life. “One of the things for me to be able to continue moving forward is basically to learn how to forgive,” he said at a news conference after the Lowell City Council voted to settle his civil rights lawsuit.
Rosario was convicted of arson and multiple counts of murder in connection with the 1982 fire in Lowell, Massachusetts, which killed three adults and five children. Despite trying to help the victims escape the flames, investigators identified Rosario as a suspect, fabricated evidence and hid evidence that the fire was actually an accident, according to his attorney Mark Loevy-Reyes.
After being kept up all night, Rosario was coerced into signing a confession in English, a language he did not understand as his native language is Spanish. The confession led to him being sentenced to life in prison. Rosario missed all the significant moments in his children’s lives, and his worst experience of being wrongfully imprisoned was not being there for his mother when she died in 2007.
Rosario’s attorneys, with assistance from the New England Innocence Project and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, persuaded a judge to vacate the convictions in 2014 and set him free pending a new trial. After the state’s highest court upheld the ruling in 2017, Middlesex County prosecutors said they would not retry him, citing the passage of time.
In 2019, Rosario filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lowell and a dozen police officers and firefighters involved in the investigation, alleging constitutional violations. The lawsuit alleged that investigators used coercion, threats, mistreatment, and sleep deprivation, and took advantage of Rosario’s “obvious mental health breakdown” to get him to sign a confession. The pressure to quickly solve a high-profile tragedy was also cited as a factor.
The settlement covers all of the police officers and firefighters named individually in the lawsuit, and Locke Bowman, one of Rosario’s attorneys, praised the Lowell City Council for settling the case. He said, “$13 million does not begin to compensate Victor for all that he has lost, but it reflects the acknowledgment of the city of Lowell that what happened wasn’t right.”
Since being freed, Rosario has started helping prisoners still behind bars and even competes in marathons. He urged the criminal justice system and universities preparing lawyers, prosecutors, and investigators to do their best to ensure that what happened to him does not happen to another wrongfully convicted individual.
This case is a reminder that the criminal justice system must be held accountable for its actions, and justice must be served for those who have been wrongfully accused and imprisoned. The settlement is a significant step towards acknowledging the wrong done to Rosario, and it is hoped that it serves as a deterrent to those who might be tempted to engage in similar misconduct in the future.