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Dionisio Polanco

Other Rhode Island exonerations
On August 13, 2005, 32-year-old Fernando Fernandez was beaten with a pool cue at the Mi Sueno nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island.

Fernandez said the assault happened while he and another man were playing pool for money. A third man, the assailant, started disrupting the game, became argumentative, and then struck Fernandez at least four times, leaving him unconscious on the floor.

Fernandez could not identify his attacker. But a waitress named Ramona Vasquez would eventually identify 38-year-old Dionisio Polanco as the man who hit Fernandez. Providence police arrested Polanco on February 7, 2007.

Polanco chose a bench trial, before Judge Susan McGuirl of Providence County Superior Court, that began in July 2008. The police had created a report about the assault, and released a statement to the press, but the report wasn’t given to the defense. Vasquez identified Polanco as the assailant. McGuirl convicted Polanco of felony assault on July 30, 2008, sentencing him to 10 years in prison.

Polanco quickly appealed his conviction. The Rhode Island courts affirmed the conviction.

On September 8, 2010, Polanco moved for a new trial. Two witnesses – Luz Morales and her son-in-law, Lexsandro Collazo – had come forward and said they had seen the assault. They didn’t identify the man who hit Fernandez, but they said it wasn’t Polanco, whom they knew informally. In addition, the witnesses said they had given statements to police in the immediate aftermath of the assault.

Mi Sueno had a troubled history with Providence law enforcement, and the assault triggered an investigation and hearing in 2005 by the city’s Board of Licenses. At that hearing, two officers testified that police responded to the assault and that a report was generated.

Polanco was released from prison on April 15, 2011. On June 7, 2011, Judge McGuirl vacated his conviction.

She said that although the police report was not found, “The defendant makes the argument that since the police did respond, in contradiction to what the information known by the parties was at the time of trial, that, in fact, if the defendant knew that at the time that happened, the police report could have been found or … there may have been information that could have exculpated the defendant, such as the names and addresses of any potential witnesses.”

Judge McGuirl also said: “We have one primary witness, Miss Vasquez, saying one thing and we have two witnesses, again, Miss Morales, in my opinion, a strong witness, saying something different. Could it change the trial? I can't say whether it would. Could I say probably? I’m not sure I can say that, but it’s certainly evidence, in my opinion, that should go before a fact finder to make that determination.”

The state dismissed the charge against Polanco on July 28, 2011. In 2021, Rhode Island enacted a law allowing persons to seek state compensation of $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully convicted.

Polanco filed for compensation on June 10, 2022. A judge declared him wrongfully convicted on December 1, 2022, awarding him $138,493 in compensation.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 2/21/2023
Last Updated: 2/21/2023
State:Rhode Island
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:10 years
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No