20 Years and Still Seeking Justice

When an innocent man arrested for murder provides police and his own attorneys with proof of an alibi, and nothing happened, MoFo lawyers stepped in to help.

In 1996, Richard Rosario was arrested for murdering a 17-year-old man in the Bronx. More than a dozen people with Richard at the time — in Florida — said he could not have committed the crime. They would have testified to that fact, but most were never contacted by the police, by the district attorney, or by Richard’s own lawyers. Instead, based on testimony from two people who placed him at the scene of the crime, identified his mugshot, and picked him out of the line-up, Richard was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. And sentenced to 25 years to life.

Today — after a decades-long legal battle waged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by Chip Loewenson and lawyers from MoFo and the Exoneration Initiative — Richard is a free man.

But he is not a satisfied man.

At a June 2016 hearing, in front of a judge ready to dismiss the murder indictment, Richard refused to let the charges be dropped.

As reported by nbcnews.com, Richard explained his decision this way: “I’ve been in prison for 20 years saying I’m innocent. I’ve been transparent and forthcoming with information to prove my innocence. And it seems that the NYPD and the DA’s office position is that the truth doesn’t matter. The public should know the truth.”

Richard’s statement squares with the man that Chip has come to know well.

Chip and the MoFo team got involved in Richard’s case in 2004. In a court hearing to evaluate whether Richard had ineffective legal representation at his murder trial, MoFo called seven of the alibi witnesses to the stand for the first time — people who had been with Richard at the time, nearly 1,000 miles away from the scene of the crime. Despite their testimony, the judge denied a motion for a new trial. For six more years, Chip and his team petitioned the federal courts, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but lost. The consensus? Yes, Richard’s original counsel had been ineffective but not enough to overturn the decision.

“It was the biggest professional disappointment of my career,” said Chip, but he fought on.

Things started to turn in Richard’s favor when the Exoneration Initiative signed on. The organization, which focuses on overturning wrongful convictions in non-DNA cases, found new information that led the Bronx district attorney to re-open the case. Witnesses in Florida, including a sheriff’s deputy and a federal corrections officer, were interviewed and based on their testimony, the conviction was vacated. Richard was released in March 2016, after having already served 20 years of his sentence.

Along with Chip, a dedicated MoFo team devoted countless hours to Richard’s case, including Washington, D.C. partners Deanne Maynard and Brian Matsui; associates Adam Hunt and Andreea Vasiliu; former associates Jodi Miller, Jin Hee Lee, and Leah Fletcher; and legal assistant Sue DiMora.

The Dateline NBC series “Conviction” tracked Richard’s journey from wrongful incarceration to a joyous reunion with his family.

As of this writing, Richard’s journey continues.

Having rejected a judge’s offer to dismiss his case, Richard is committed to pursuing a comprehensive investigation that fully exonerates him.

For Richard, the quest is personal: to clear his name by uncovering the truth and proving his innocence, once and for all.