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A Massachusetts man convicted in 1993 for a murder that occurred in 1985 has been granted a new trial after DNA evidence provided doubt about his guilt.
Thomas Rosa was convicted of killing 18-year-old Gwendolyn Taylor following three separate trials – one mistrial and one overturned conviction before a third and final conviction in 1993, according to the New England Innocence Project (NEIP). Rosa spent 34 years in prison before being released on October 15, 2020, following a judge’s order that he be freed while the Massachusetts Superior Court considers his motion for a new trial.
On September 6, Suffolk Superior Court Justice Michael Ricciuti issued a ruling that vacated Rosa’s original conviction but left the possibility for a new trial.
“Under a confluence of evidence analysis, the new DNA evidence and modern eyewitness science warrant a new trial,” the decision says, according to CBS News.
District Attorney Kevin Hayden’s office told the Boston Globe that prosecutors are “reviewing the ruling and will announce our decision at a future date.”
“Rosa’s conviction, the result of the three trials and based on evidence that ‘far from overwhelming’ … was based on two eyewitness identifications supported by blood typing, all of which has been called into question,” the decision said. “Because such evidence would be a real factor within jury deliberations, there was a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice sufficient to grant a new trial.”
Attorneys with the NEIP and Boston College Innocence Project previously argued for a new trial, to which Justice Frank Gaziano replied in his ruling that “the DNA evidence, if correct, in conjunction with the Defendant’s other claims, could well establish that ‘confluence of factors’ that would indicate that a new trial is required.”
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in 2020 helped Rosa get out of prison by filing a petition saying Rosa’s motion for postconviction relief had merit and that he presented no danger to the public. The motion also stated that Rosa, now in his 60s, had underlying health conditions that put him at risk if he were to contract COVID during the pandemic.
On Monday, Rosa’s attorneys held a press conference asking the DA’s office to drop the charges rather than put their client through another trial.
“We are hopeful that the District Attorney will now end this nightmare by dismissing all charges against Mr. Rosa,” attorney Radha Natajaran said in a statement released prior to the news conference. “There should be no fourth trial for this innocent man.”
A new trial would be difficult for prosecutors to win, given that evidence from the original crime scene has been allegedly lost, including the weapon used to kill Taylor.
New DNA testing also showed no traces of Taylor’s DNA on a jacket taken from Rosa’s home during the investigation. That jacket was used as evidence during his original trials, with two eyewitnesses claiming they saw the killer wearing it.
Original tests on the jacket found evidence of Taylor’s blood type, but new testing excluded Rosa from the pool of potential DNA matches. Millions of people share similar blood types, so it is not an accurate test to determine someone’s guilt.
“The only remaining evidence was the testimony of two eyewitnesses who viewed the perpetrator at night for less than ten seconds under circumstances that we now know, based on numerous exonerations and research, create a high risk of misidentification,” the New England Innocence Project said in its press release before the news conference. That press release also alleged that an eyewitness against Rosa “described a scenario where the victim and assailant knew each other, but Mr. Rosa and the victim never knew each other.”