THE BRONX — Murder charges have been officially dismissed against a wrongfully convicted Bronx man who spent 20 years in prison for a fatal shooting, roughly four months after he opted to delay his own exoneration until a full investigation into his arrest and prosecution was carried out.
Richard Rosario had spent decades in prison for the murder of Jorge Collazo II, who was killed the afternoon of June 19, 1996 near White Plains Road and Turnbull Avenue.
Rosario had said he was in Deltona, Florida on the day of Collazo's death and that multiple people could confirm this, but his attorney at the time did not interview any of these witnesses or send an investigator to Florida.
His conviction was vacated in March after it was determined that he had not received a fair trial, but when the Bronx District Attorney's Office initially moved to dismiss all charges against him in June, Rosario's defense team asked the judge to deny this request pending a thorough investigation into his wrongful conviction.
Judge Robert Torres granted this request at the time but has since issued an order of dismissal, according to the Bronx DA's Office.
The decision states that the "newly discovered evidence" Rosario was concerned with was largely not new and completely untrustworthy, specifically referring to an argument that Collazo may have been murdered over drugs as "without merit."
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced on Monday that the murder charges against Rosario have been officially dismissed and that she will not retry him for the fatal shooting.
"Our Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed his case, and we have determined that, in the interest of justice, the charges should be dismissed," Clark said in a statement. "We have concluded that since we would be unable to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the case should not be retried."
The Conviction Integrity Unit interviewed Rosario's alibi witnesses and examined thousands of documents in their review of the case, and the investigation into Collazo's murder will remain open, according to the Bronx DA's Office.
“The family of Jorge L. Collazo II, who was 17 years old when he was shot and killed, deserves certainty and justice, and we will keep investigating," Clark said in a statement. "His murder remains an open case.”
Rosario's attorney Chip Loewenson of the firm Morrison & Foerster said that his client had been hoping the district attorney's office would declare him innocent, rather than just declaring it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of the fatal shooting, but he was still happy that the charges had been dismissed.
"If you have a murder indictment over your head, it is flat out good news when it gets dismissed," Loewenson said. "It would’ve been nice to get more, but it’s a very important event that this criminal case is now over."
"The world knows he’s innocent. He knows he’s innocent," Loewenson continued, "and if the district attorney’s office isn’t willing to say that, that’s OK."
Rosario has not yet determined whether he will be filing a lawsuit over his wrongful conviction, according to Loewenson.