Today’s Globe publishes a major investigative report re-examining the evidence in a 1982 Lowell fire on Decatur Street that killed 8 people. Immediately after the fire was extinguished on March 5, 1982, investigators suspected arson and the trail soon led to 24-year old Victor Rosario who signed a statement incriminating himself during a lengthy interrogation session at the Lowell Police Department. Rosario, who was convicted of arson and eight counts of murder, continues to serve his life sentence, but a new defense team has assembled evidence that they claim raises doubt about his conviction and plan to file a motion for a new trial soon.
The story balances this “new” evidence with an interview with Harold Waterhouse, the long-time Lowell arson investigator and lead investigator on this case, who retired more than 20 years ago but who is still around and very active in the community. (If you follow the above link to the story on boston.com, be sure to watch the embedded 6 minute video which features an interview with Hal).
Besides the Lowell connection, this story is significant as an example of a new model of investigative reporting. The story is written and reported not by Boston Globe reporters, but by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University, “a non-profit, university based investigative reporting center” that trains students to be journalists and “helps to fill the ever-widening void of investigative and explanatory reporting” in the shrinking mainstream media.
As for the prospects of the motion for a new trial, it’s tough to say. Our legal system, especially when it comes to criminal law, is inexact, at best. The process usually gets it right, but sometimes mistakes are made. When mistakes are uncovered, they should be corrected. But because the criminal justice process is so inexact, even when the correct result is reached, it’s easy to pick apart the process, especially long after the fact.