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BC Law Students Aid in Overturning Conviction

externs help prove 'perfect storm' led to wrongful conviction

NEWTON, Mass. (July 2014)—Two students participating in the Boston College Law School Innocence Program played a key role in the exoneration of a man who had served 32 years in prison following arson and murder convictions stemming from a 1982 fire in Lowell, Mass. that killed eight people. Victor Rosario was released on bail following a July 7 ruling by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman that new evidence had resulted in real "doubt on the justice of the convictions."

Sharon Beckman
Program Director Sharon Beckman

Associate Clinical Law Professor Sharon Beckman arranged the externship that enabled Jennifer Henricks '15 and Rita Muse '15 to work with Attorney Lisa Kavanaugh, who represented Rosario. The students helped Kavanaugh prove in a March evidentiary hearing that "a perfect storm" of causes applied to Rosario's case, including the prosecution's reliance on "junk" arson science, a false confession, and ineffective representation by trial counsel.

"It is amazing that BC Law students had the opportunity to work on this case at this critical time," said Beckman, director of the BC Law Innocence Program, through which students concurrently study wrongful convictions and work on prevention or remediation at an in-house clinic or externship placement. "For a second-year law student to be able to say she helped vacate the conviction of a man who has served 32 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is really remarkable."

“Jennifer and Rita were invaluable to me," Kavanaugh said, who pointed out that BC Law grad Samantha Shusterman '13 also contributed to the case earlier on. The students reviewed transcripts, drafted direct examination questions, and helped prepare visual aids to more effectively present the complex scientific issues in the case, and, she said, brought “not only their minds but also their hearts” to the case.

The Middlesex District Attorney's Office is appealing the ruling vacating Rosario's convictions. Read more on the students’ involvement in the case.