How Publicity Helped Reverse A Wrongful Conviction

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For more than a decade, lawyer Carl “Chip” Loewenson Jr. worked in obscurity trying to free Richard Rosario, who was serving a 25-to-life sentence for murder. A 1996 murder happened in New York when Rosario–according to 13 alibi witnesses including a sheriff’s deputy, a pastor and a federal corrections officer–was in Florida. How the case played out is a template for using publicity, though on a scale most lawyers can only dream of: A 12-part Dateline documentary, a prime-time interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, and dozens of news stories, reports The Litigation Daily. After 20 years behind bars, Rosario is free. His conviction was vacated in March, the day after the documentary went online. Next month, a judge will weigh his request for formal exoneration. It seems unlikely the publicity alone led to his freedom, but it was surely a factor.

Loewenson, a partner at the Morrison & Foerster firm, said his pro bono representation began in late 2003. The Exoneration Initiative joined as co-counsel in 2011. It should have been an open-and-shut case of ineffective assistance of counsel. The jury never heard from 11 of the 13 people who were positive they were with Rosario in Florida when a teenager was shot in the Bronx. Rosario didn’t know the victim. His conviction was based on two eyewitnesses who picked his photo out of a book of mugshots. The case got a few stories in the Village Voice and a New York Times piece on page 11 in 2011. It was time for something more. Enter Dateline producer Dan Slepian, who has done a series of wrongful conviction investigations.

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