In 1982 Victor Rosario injured himself trying to save residents from a burning building. Rather than acknowledge his heroism, Lowell police falsified evidence and coerced a false confession to convict him of arson and murder. After more than 3 decades of wrongful imprisonment, Rosario’s nightmare is finally at an end.

Victor Rosario stands next to a photo of himself taken when he was 24-years-old sitting in a courtroom. Credit: Bianca Beltrán/NBC10Boston
Victor Rosario stands next to a photo of himself taken when he was 24-years-old sitting in a courtroom. Credit: Bianca Beltrán/NBC10Boston

On May 3rd, 2023, the Lowell, Massachusetts City Council approved a $13 million settlement to exoneree Victor Rosario, who spent 32 years wrongfully incarcerated after Lowell police falsified evidence, coerced a false confession, and used ‘junk science’ to frame him. This is one of the largest wrongful conviction settlements in New England history.

In 1982, Victor Rosario was wrongly accused and convicted of arson and the murders of eight people who died in the fire attributed to the arson. The fire occurred on Decatur Street in Lowell, Massachusetts in March 1982. There was no evidence that connected Rosario to the fire. In fact, there was no evidence that the fire was arson at all.

Within hours after the fire, the Lowell police officers decided that the fire was arson based on “evidence” that fire scientists even at the time had debunked as ‘junk science’. No physical evidence ever supported their theory that the fire was arson. In the 1980s, Lowell’s arson investigators solicited funding and received grants from insurance companies. Investigators publicly acknowledged that findings of arson could help insurance companies avoid paying claims. None of this was made known to Rosario’s defense attorneys at the time.

Rosario’s lawsuit alleges that to support this false story of arson, Lowell police officers coerced and fabricated a false confession using well-known improper tactics during Rosario’s interrogation including outright lies, coercion, threats, mistreatment, manipulation of obvious mental breakdown, and sleep deprivation.

The lawsuit also alleges that Lowell police gave Mr. Rosario a statement written in English, which he could not read and which was not translated to him, and officers forced him to sign it with false promises that only if he signed it could he go home.

Based on fabricated evidence and the false confession, Mr. Rosario was charged, prosecuted, and wrongly convicted of an arson that never happened and multiple murders. He was condemned to die in prison for something he had not done.

Mr. Rosario was exonerated in 2014.  On September 8, 2017, after Mr. Rosario had spent more than three decades behind bars, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dropped all charges against him.

While he was wrongfully incarcerated, Rosario lost his entire young adulthood. His mother died, leaving Mr. Rosario to grieve alone, behind bars.  Mr. Rosario lost the ability to be present in his four children’s lives.

Victor Rosario was represented in this lawsuit against the City of Lowell by his attorneys Mark Reyes, Locke Bowman, Steve Art, Annie Prossnitz, and Renee Spence of Loevy & Loevy.

Attorney Andrea Peterson, Attorney Lisa Kavanaugh, The New England Innocence Project, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services all played pivotal roles in securing Mr. Rosario’s release from prison in September 2017

Read more about Victor Rosario’s story in The Boston Globe and the Associated Press.