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Richard Rosario said he was in Florida, and he said 13 people could swear he was there at the time that 17-year-old Jorge Collazo was gunned down back on a Bronx street in the summer of 1996.
But the defense attorneys and prosecutors never tracked down those potential witnesses before trial. Rosario was convicted of the murder based on two eyewitnesses who identified him as the shooter from a police photo book.
Rosario, now 40, was released on Wednesday – at least for the time being. The new Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark recommended dismissing the conviction, but not the charges – a new investigation is going to revisit the entire case.
“I’ve been in prison for 20 years for a crime I didn’t commit,” said Rosario, for now a free man. “My family didn’t deserve this. I didn’t deserve this, and nor did the family of the victim.”
Rosario, who had attempted and lost multiple appeal attempts after his conviction, will be free until the district attorney decided to retry the case or drop the charges.
Attorneys from the non-profit Exoneration Project argued that the conviction lacked forensic and physical evidence.
The release came just days ahead of a planned release of a “Dateline” series by NBC News focused on the Rosario case.
Rosario had maintained he had been staying with friends in Florida on June 19, 1996, when Collazo was shot once in the head by another man during an argument in the street back in the Bronx. Rosario gave a list of more than a dozen names to his attorney: alibi witnesses who could place him 1,000 miles away.
Rosario’s initial attorney got a judge’s approval to pay to send a private investigator to Florida to follow up on the names. But the attorney never sent the detective. Another lawyer took over the case, and believed the funding had been denied and never sent the investigator, either, according to court papers obtained by The Associated Press.
However, during appeals in 2004 and 2010, several of the witnesses did testify at hearings. A judge found the testimony would not have swayed the initial outcome.
The victim’s surviving family remains convinced of Rosario’s guilt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.