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Richard Rosario

Other Bronx Exonerations
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On June 19, 1996, 17-year-old Jorge Collazo and a friend, Michael Sanchez, were walking in the Bronx when a car pulled up and two men—one black and one Hispanic—got out. The Hispanic man argued with Collazo and then fatally shot him in the head. The men fled in the car.

At the time of the shooting, Collazo was carrying a loaded pistol and evidence would later suggest he was involved in selling drugs.

Detectives asked Sanchez and a food cart vender named Jose Diaz, who was nearby at the time of the crime, to look through books of photographs of people who had been arrested in that precinct. The police said that Sanchez and Diaz identified 20-year-old Richard Rosario as the gunman.

Rosario, who had prior convictions for robbery and possession of stolen property, turned himself into the police on July 1, 1996. Rosario said he had been in Florida at the time of the crime, but he took a bus to New York after his family told him that he was wanted for questioning.

After Sanchez and Diaz identified Rosario in a live lineup as the gunman, Rosario was charged with second-degree murder.

Rosario went on trial in Bronx County Supreme Court in November 1998. Diaz and Sanchez identified him as the gunman.

Rosario’s defense attorney presented two alibi witnesses who said that Rosario was in Florida for the birth of his son at the time of the crime. However, the prosecution cast doubt on their testimony by emphasizing that both were friends of Rosario.

On November 23, 1998, the jury convicted Rosario of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Rosario appealed repeatedly in both state and federal court. None of the appeals succeeded, even though Rosario presented seven more alibi witnesses who testified that he was in Florida at the time Collazo was murdered. Three of the new witnesses passed polygraph examinations (as did Rosario himself).

Rosario enlisted the help of the Exoneration Initiative (EXI), a non-profit organization in New York City that works to free the wrongly convicted. In their investigation, EXI attorneys Glenn Garber and Rebecca Friedman discovered that the police and prosecution had withheld evidence helpful to the defense.

The concealed evidence showed that in his initial recorded statement, Sanchez said that he did not see the gunman—a statement that cast doubt on his identification of Rosario at trial.

The police also failed to document and disclose statements from two other witnesses that the gunman addressed Collazo by name and that the getaway car had no license plates—suggesting that the gunman knew and specifically targeted Collazo. There was no evidence that Rosario and Collazo had ever met before the shooting.

The withheld evidence also showed that before Rosario’s trial, the prosecution bolstered Sanchez’s confidence in his identification of Rosario by falsely telling him that Diaz had initially identified Rosario in his first statement. In fact, Diaz failed to identify Rosario in a lineup held after Rosario turned himself into police—another fact the prosecution did not disclose.

Rosario’s trial attorney admitted that he failed to contact more than a dozen people in Florida whom Rosario said would testify that they saw him in Florida on the day of the crime. The lawyer, who took over from another defense lawyer before trial, said he mistakenly believed that the trial judge had previously denied a request for funds to send an investigator to Florida to interview the witnesses.

In March 2015, despite the new evidence, Bronx County Supreme Court Judge Robert Sackett refused to grant Rosario a new trial.

In January 2016, Darcel Clark was sworn in as District Attorney for Bronx County. At the request of EXI, Clark's conviction integrity unit began to re-examine the case and sent investigators to Florida to interview 11 alibi witnesses for Rosario.

After its investigation, the prosecution agreed to vacate Rosario’s conviction, and on March 23, 2016, Rosario was released from prison. A day earlier, Dateline NBC aired an online documentary capping a three year investigation that featured interviews with the alibi witnesses.

To watch the documentary: (http://www.nbcnews.com/specials/conviction )

On November 10, 2016, the case was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley
– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/18/2016
State:New York
County:Bronx
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:25 years to life
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No