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After Chelsea man’s murder conviction is overturned, attorneys call on Suffolk DA to drop charges

Thomas Rosa, 62, had his murder conviction reversed for the second time after spending more than half his life in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Thomas Rosa Jr. (center) was surrounded by family, friends, and supporters with the New England Innocence Project during a news conference in front of Suffolk Superior Court. His wife, Virginia, is on the left. Radha Natarajan, executive director of the New England Innocence Project, is on on the right.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Attorneys convened outside Suffolk Superior Court Monday to urge Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden to drop the charges against a Chelsea man whose murder conviction was overturned last week, marking his second wrongful conviction since his case was first tried in 1986.

“This conviction was built on a house of cards with a foundation that has entirely dissolved,” said Radha Natarajan, executive director of the New England Innocence Project. “The ball is in the hands of the Suffolk District Attorney ... [to decide] whether to end this injustice, or whether they are going to proceed with a fourth trial.”


Supported by his wife, Thomas Rosa, 62, rested gently on his cane and offered reporters a wan smile through the morning drizzle that peppered the Superior Court courtyard late Monday morning. Because Rosa is still facing criminal charges, his attorneys said he and his family are unable to comment directly on the ruling.

Rosa has already been prosecuted three times for the 1985 murder of Gwendolyn Taylor; the first trial resulted in a hung jury, and Rosa’s convictions in the subsequent two trials were both overturned because of concerns about how the case was prosecuted.

After spending 34 years behind bars, Rosa was released from prison in October 2020 while his most recent conviction was under review. On Wednesday, Justice Michael Ricciuti ordered a new trial for Rosa after determining his 1993 conviction was “based on evidence that was far from overwhelming,” including forensic and investigative techniques from the 1980s that modern science has called into question.

At the time, prosecutors presented jurors with the testimony of two eyewitnesses and argued that “the extreme stress and trauma they experienced significantly improved their memory” and their identification of Rosa, according to court records. However, Ricciuti wrote in his motion ordering a new trial that advances in eyewitness science suggest the testimonies of those eyewitnesses were “not as strong as the Commonwealth argued they were.”


Charlotte Whitmore of the Boston College Innocence Program, who represents Rosa alongside Natarajan, stressed that “memory does not operate like a video recorder ... it can be contaminated, just like [physical] trace evidence.”

Both eyewitnesses saw the assailant for “at most 10 seconds, in the dark, at night,” Whitmore said, and their descriptions of the man varied. The one thing both people could agree on was that the killer had “a missing tooth or a large gap — and at the time, Mr. Rosa had a full set of teeth.”

That should have led police to pursue other suspects, Whitmore said, but they chose to investigate and charge Rosa.

Natarajan noted that roughly 70 percent of people who have been exonerated for a crime were initially convicted because of an overreliance on eyewitnesses who confidently identified the wrong person.

“Mr. Rosa tried to show the jury they had the wrong person, but this was before anyone knew the dangers of eyewitness testimony,” she said. “He even volunteered his blood, hair, and saliva, begging police to compare them with the evidence … but there was a problem” there, too.

Rosa was investigated as a suspect before the widespread use of DNA testing, meaning prosecutors relied on tests showing that bodily fluids found on the victim matched Rosa’s blood type, and that a stain on Rosa’s jacket matched the blood type of the victim.


After his 1993 conviction, Rosa tried to have the evidence DNA-tested, Natarajan said, but it was unclear whether he would ever be able to exclude himself as a suspect because “the district attorney’s office lost significant evidence, including the murder weapon found at the crime scene.”

However, “there fortunately were significant pieces of evidence that could be tested,” and new DNA analysis conducted by two different experts indicated that “Rosa is excluded from the male DNA found in the victim’s body,” Natarajan said.

“This demonstrates not only that blood-type evidence was misleading to jurors, but that the eyewitness identification was wrong,” she added. “What was used as evidence of Mr. Rosa’s guilt, was actually evidence of his innocence.”

The question now before prosecutors, she said, is whether to try Rosa’s case a fourth time, after he has already spent more than half his life in prison, steadily maintaining his innocence. At 62, Rosa is declining in health, Natarajan said, with the latest blow coming last year as he suffered a stroke.

James Borghesani, a spokesperson for Hayden’s office, told the Globe Friday that the office is “reviewing the ruling and will announce our decision at a future date.”

Natarajan said if Hayden chooses to prosecute Rosa’s case again, “we will be ready.” But she insisted that as prosecutors review the facts, “what they will find is that there is nothing further to prosecute.”

As supporters cheered “Good luck, Mr. Rosa!” his attorneys encouraged Suffolk County residents to call Hayden’s office and urge him to drop the charges against their client.


“In 1993, Mr. Rosa was a married man with a growing family, who had never been charged with a crime of violence and believed the system would soon realize it had made a terrible mistake,” Natarajan said. “Now, his reaction is tempered ... but people need to know what their taxpayer dollars and support are going to: Is it the continued prosecution of an innocent man, or is it the dropping of these charges?”

Ivy Scott can be reached at Follow her @itsivyscott.