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Wrongfully Convicted Massachusetts Man Gets $13M Settlement

Victor Rosario
Victor Rosario, 65, stands next to a photo of himself at age 24 when he was on trial in 1982 for arson, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, outside the federal courthouse in Boston. Rosario, who spent 32 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of setting a fire that killed eight people, will receive $13 million from the city of Lowell, Mass., in a settlement of a lawsuit he brought against the city in 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Pratt)

By MARK PRATT Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts man who spent 32 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of
setting a fire that killed eight people will receive $13 million from the city where he was arrested.

Victor Rosario, 65, said Wednesday he has forgiven those who put him behind bars.

“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 the day after the Lowell City Council voted to settle a $13 million civil
rights lawsuit he brought against the city.

Rosario was 24 years old when he was convicted of arson and multiple counts of murder in connection
with the 1982 fire in Lowell, Massachusetts. Three adults and five children died in the fire.

Rosario tried to help the victims escape the flames, his attorneys said.

But investigators identified Rosario as a suspect, and then fabricated evidence and hid evidence that
the fire was actually an accident, attorney Mark Loevy-Reyes said.

“They brought Victor Rosario for questioning; They coerced a confession after keeping him up all
night,” Loevy-Reyes said. “Victor was traumatized because he had tried to save children from the
burning fire. He heard their screams.”

He was told if he signed a piece of paper, he could go, Loevy-Reyes said. It was in English, and
Rosario didn’t understand it because his native language is Spanish. He signed it anyway and ended up
with a life sentence.

Rosario missed all the highwater moments in his four children’s lives. But the worst thing about being
wrongfully imprisoned, Rosario said, was not being there for his mother when she died in 2007.

“Thirty-five years, more than half of my life, I spent behind the wall of a Massachusetts state
prison,” Rosario read from a written statement at the news conference outside Boston’s federal
courthouse. “Today this chapter is ended and a new chapter begins. Nothing can ever compensate me for
those years taken from me.”

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, he filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lowell as well as about a dozen police officers
and firefighters involved in the investigation, alleging constitutional violations. The settlement was
announced just a couple of weeks before the trial was scheduled to start.

The lawsuit said investigators used “outright lies, coercion, threats, mistreatment, and sleep
deprivation” and took advantage of Rosario’s “obvious mental health breakdown” to get their client to
sign a confession.

There was pressure to quickly solve a high-profile tragedy, his lawsuit said.

Prosecutors said at trial that Rosario and two brothers, who have since died, set the fire by throwing
Molotov cocktails at the building. The brothers were never tried because Rosario refused to testify
against them.

Locke Bowman, another of Rosario’s attorneys, credited the Lowell City Council for settling the case.

“$13 million does not begin to compensate Victor for all that he has lost but it reflects the
acknowledgement of the city of Lowell that what happened wasn’t right,” he said.

The settlement covers all of the police officers and firefighters named individually in the lawsuit.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Lowell mayor’s office, the city manager’s office and the

city’s legal department.

Since he’s been freed, Rosario has started helping prisoners still behind bars and even competes in

“I ask the criminal justice system, the universities preparing lawyers, prosecutors and investigators,
to do their very best to not let what happened to me be the future of one more wrongfully convicted
individual,” he said in his statement.

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