Twenty-four years after Richard Rosario was wrongfully convicted of murder, his fight to be compensated for the 20 years he lost in prison came to an end today in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan.
I first learned about Rosario’s plight nearly a decade ago. What he told me then still astonishes me, even though I know how the story ends.
Rosario was convicted of the 1996 shooting of Jorge Collazo in the Bronx. But Rosario said he knew nothing about it, and was 1,000 miles away when the murder occurred.
“I was in Florida, and I have 13 alibi witnesses to prove it,” Rosario told me. “When I heard police were looking for me, I turned myself in, gave them the names and contact information for all 13 people -- and no one ever contacted them.”
How could that be true? I was determined to find out.
My two-year investigation helped lead to Rosario’s conviction being vacated in 2016, as detailed in Dateline’s seven-episode podcast, “13 Alibis.”
In the podcast, Rosario told me a jury award would be only a small step toward his healing, “No amount of money can give me all those precious years back. They ruined my life.”
In 2017, Rosario filed a civil suit for wrongful conviction and imprisonment against the City of New York and the detectives responsible for his arrest.
In his lawsuit, Rosario claimed the detectives acted with malice and that his wrongful conviction was a result of their misconduct. During the two-week trial, lawyers for New York City argued that probable cause existed to arrest Rosario because two eyewitnesses had picked him out as the shooter.
Today, after two days of deliberations, the jury determined that one of the detectives violated Rosario’s constitutional rights and he was awarded $5,000,000 in damages.
After the verdict, Dateline reached out to the City of New York for comment. “We respect the jury's decision,” Patricia Miller, Chief of the Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Division said in a statement. “We commend our detectives and applaud the very brave eyewitnesses who did the right thing by coming forward to solve the murder of a 17 year old and stood by that testimony over 20 years later during this civil trial despite pressure to do otherwise.”
After he left the courthouse today, Richard Rosario told Dateline he was gratified by the verdict, saying simply, “I won.”