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Essex DA won’t seek retrial in 1994 murder case

Angel Echavarria hugged his daughter Ishannis Lopez in Salem Superior Court last month.
Angel Echavarria hugged his daughter Ishannis Lopez in Salem Superior Court last month.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File

Essex County prosecutors Monday said they will not retry the case against Angel Echavarria, a man who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he always said he did not commit.

Echavarria’s conviction in the 1994 murder of Daniel Rodriguez in Lynn was overturned this spring when a judge ruled that the prosecution’s case was flawed and that Echavarria had not had adequate representation. Prosecutors said it was not feasible for them to retry the case.

“Given the lapse in time, our inability to locate witnesses, and the lack of forensic evidence not affected by time, it is not feasible to retry the case at this time,” District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said.

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Echavarria, 48, said he was thrilled by the news and relieved his long ordeal was over.

“Now I’m going to enjoy my life,” he said.

Despite his two decades in prison, he said he was not bitter at the government. “It was a very long time, but I’m not angry,” he said. “I leave it to God.”

Echavarria, a father of five, said he had no immediate plans beyond spending as much time possible with his friends and family, and enjoying a freedom that was a long time coming.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in January 1996 and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Judicial Court two years later.

But in April, Judge David Lowy allowed Echavarria’s motion for a new trial, ruling that he had received an inadequate defense at his trial.

“The weakness of the Commonwealth’s case, along with the performance of Mr. Echavarria’s counsel, which fell measurably below that which might be expected from an ordinary fallible lawyer, leaves the court with a compelling belief that justice may not have been done in this case,” Lowy wrote.

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Echavarria, a Dominican immigrant, said he had never seen Rodriguez before, and no physical evidence linked him to the crime. A year after Echavarria’s conviction, his trial lawyer, Charles H. Robson, was suspended for three years from the bar based on a pattern of professional misconduct.

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University investigated Echavarria’s case for a decade, uncovering evidence that led a judge to grant an evidentiary hearing last year.

At a court hearing last month, Echavarria cried as he embraced his family after being released from prison.

“I have been through a lot in jail,” he said. “I’m innocent. I never gave up.”

He told reporters he was a good person who “never hurt anybody.”

In January 1994, Daniel Rodriguez and his brother Isidoro were confronted by two armed men as they entered their apartment in Lynn. The armed men dragged the brothers into the apartment, and one of them tied Isidoro Rodriguez’s hands and threw a shirt over his face.

When Isidoro freed himself, he saw his brother had been fatally shot in the head. The two men had fled.

Nine days later, Echavarria was charged with murder, along with a friend. He insisted he had never gone to the apartment.

The judge ruled that Echavarria’s trial lawyer Robson had failed to adequately cross-examine Isidoro Rodriguez, who did not know his own birth date and could not read a digital clock. During opening statements, Robson told the jury Echavarria would testify in his own defense, but never called him to the stand.

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“It is certainly conceivable that the jury’s verdict may have been different were it not for Mr. Robson’s error,” Lowy ruled.


Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.