After serving 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Richard Rosario, a former client of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), was freed last week, returning to his family, including his wife and children, now living in Orlando, Florida. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark conceded that Mr. Rosario did not receive effective assistance of counsel when he was first tried, and indicated that a retrial of Mr. Rosario’s case would depend on the outcome of a new investigation.
In 1996, Mr. Rosario, now 40 years old, was found guilty of a Bronx murder, despite having identified at least 13 alibi witnesses with direct knowledge that he had been in Florida at the time of the murder. Mr. Rosario’s defense attorney had received court-approved funding to send a private investigator to Florida to meet with the witnesses, but inexplicably no Florida investigation took place in support of Mr. Rosario’s defense. Ultimately, Mr. Rosario was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years-to-life on the basis of two eye witnesses who had mistakenly identified him as the shooter. Eyewitness testimony has been criticized as a leading cause of wrongful convictions all across the country. No forensic or physical evidence connected Mr. Rosario to the murder.
Jin Hee Lee, LDF’s Deputy Director of Litigation, began working on Mr. Rosario’s case more than a decade ago when she was an associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP, which has been representing Mr. Rosario on a pro bono basis throughout his post-conviction proceedings. She brought the case with her when she arrived at LDF, which represented Mr. Rosario as co-counsel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Mr. Rosario lost his appeal in the Second Circuit before a sharply divided panel with the dissenting judge issuing a 43-page opinion expressing his concerns about the ineffectiveness of Mr. Rosario’s trial counsel. Mr. Rosario’s petition for a rehearing en banc by the court was denied in a closely split decision, and his appeal to the United States Supreme Court was likewise denied after multiple conferences. After having exhausted all federal appeals, the case was reinvestigated and relitigated by the Exoneration Initiative, which specializes in New York wrongful conviction cases.
To read news coverage about the case, see the following links below.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.