Richard Rosario was convicted of murder in 1998. Two eye witnesses had identified him as the man who shot 17-year-old George Collazo on June 19, 1996 in the Bronx. Rosario, whose case we detailed in a May feature story, has proclaimed his innocence since the day of his arrest. The most compelling evidence supporting his story: nine witnesses have testified that Rosario was in Deltona, Florida on and around the day of the crime.
See also our June cover story on the case: The Prisoner’s Daughter: Amanda Rosario hopes this is the last time she’ll have to get her hopes up
To the Bronx District Attorney’s office, however, all nine witnesses are either lying or mistaken. Rosario, represented by the Exoneration Initiative, had filed an actual innocence appeal in March. On Thursday, prosecutors filed a response, stating that its “investigation revealed no convincing evidence of defendant’s innocence.”
The text of the response is around 24 pages. It addressed the many points of Rosario’s appeal. An actual innocence appeal takes a kitchen sink approach: throw every potential evidence of innocence in there to strengthen the case. So the credibility of eye witnesses are questioned and the statements that didn’t make it into trial are analyzed.
But the response devoted a single paragraph to the point about the nine alibi witnesses. It did not need more space because the alibi witnesses were the basis of Rosario’s previous appeal, which failed. In that appeal, Rosario claimed that he had ineffective representation: because of an unexplained miscommunication, his public defender did not know that the trial judge approved funding to send an investigator to interview alibi witnesses in Florida. As a result, only two alibi witnesses testified at trial. The other seven testified at an appeal hearing in 2004. They remembered the specific date because two of Rosario’s friends, John Torres and Jeanine Seda, had a baby on June 20, 1996, the day after the murder.
In its response, the D.A.’s office stated that a State Supreme Court judge concluded the testimonies were not enough for him to vacate the conviction and that a federal appeals panel affirmed the lower court’s decision. “Thus defendant’s reliance on the very same evidence to support his renewed claim of actual innocence should be summarily rejected.”
The two eye witnesses who identified Rosario held firm. One of them, Robert Davis, recounted to the D.A.’s office a conversation with Rosario’s appeals attorneys:
All I said to them is that your main did it and he has to serve his time. The male lawyer along with the female lawyer stated that their client was in Florida at the time of the murder. murder. I told them that is a lie, he could not have been in Florida. If he was in Florida then he went to Florida after the shooting… Before they left they kept telling me that they have witnesses and I told them OK but I stated that your guy still shot the guy.
The D.A.’s office also noted that Rosario was convicted of armed robbery in a separate case, after he was convicted of murder. The robbery victim, according to prosecutors, identified Rosario in a photo line-up. Rosario pleaded guilty, his lawyer say, so that the six-to-nine-year robbery sentence would run concurrent with his 25-to-life murder sentence.
But the response did not hit every point in Rosario’s appeal. It did not address a Volusia County, Florida, police field report indicating that on May 30, 1996, an officer questioned four men sitting in a car parked in front of a restaurant. Among the four were John Torres and Richard Rosario.
Rosario’s legal team has until September 12 to file a response to the response. A hearing with oral arguments is scheduled for October.