1996 murder case dropped after freed man's unusual request

AP News
Posted: Nov 14, 2016 4:37 PM
1996 murder case dropped after freed man's unusual request

NEW YORK (AP) — A man imprisoned for 20 years for a killing he said he didn't come within 1,000 miles of committing got the case dismissed Monday, though he didn't get the vindication he wanted.

Richard Rosario had already been freed in March, after prosecutors agreed his former lawyers hadn't done enough to find some 13 alibi witnesses, making his trial unfair. After reinvestigating the 1996 murder case, prosecutors said in June they were ready to drop it because they no longer felt they could prove it, stopping short of declaring Rosario innocent.

Then Rosario made an unusual request: Keep the case open for more investigation, even though he'd still be under indictment meanwhile.

"The public should know the truth," he said at the time. "It's clear that I'm innocent."

Rosario, 41, had told police early on that 13 people could vouch that he was staying in Deltona, Florida, when Jorge "George" Collazo was killed after an exchange of words on a Bronx street. No forensic or physical evidence tied Rosario to the crime, but two witnesses identified him from a police photo book as the man who'd shot the 17-year-old Collazo in the head.

Two of Rosario's alibi witnesses did testify, but his lawyers say others could have buttressed his defense significantly. His initial attorneys didn't talk to them, even though a judge had approved money to send a private investigator to Florida to find them.

After a surprised Bronx State Supreme Court Justice Robert Torres agreed in June to leave the case open, Rosario sought a ruling saying that newfound evidence would likely have changed the verdict in his favor, not just that his ex-lawyers erred.

Torres turned Rosario down last week. The denial forecloses him from seeking one particular form of wrongful-conviction compensation, though he could sue to seek other compensation.

Regardless, Rosario is glad to be free of the case, said lawyer Chip Loewenson.

"For 20 years, he had the murder conviction and then a murder indictment hanging over his head, and now it's done," said Loewenson, who worked on the case with attorneys from the Exoneration Initiative.

Collazo's relatives have decried Rosario's bid to be cleared.

"You were never proven innocent. Let's just get it straight," the victim's father and namesake told Rosario outside court in June.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark vowed Monday to keep working on the case.

Collazo's family "deserves certainty and justice," Clark said in a statement.

The case, which has been featured in a "Dateline" digital series on NBCNews.com, is among more than 25 convictions from New York City's high-crime 1980s and '90s that prosecutors have disavowed in the last five years.