Norfolk County prosecutors said Monday they will not retry Frederick Weichel for the 1980 murder of Robert LaMonica in Braintree unless new evidence surfaces.
Weichel, 65, was freed on bail in April after a judge overturned his 1981 conviction and ordered a new trial.
In a court filing, Assistant Norfolk District Attorney Marguerite T. Grant wrote that the decision does not mean Weichel has been exonerated.
“This nolle prosequi ‘does not operate as an acquittal for first-degree murder,’ ” Grant wrote. “The Commonwealth remains committed to retrying this defendant for the murder of Robert W. LaMonica if sufficient evidence were to become available. There is no statute of limitations for murder.”
But Grant said prosecutors could not retry Weichel because nearly four decades have passed since the crime. At least six witnesses have died, another has dementia, and an eighth witness is dealing with serious health issues, she said. The murder weapon was also destroyed and crime-scene diagrams have been lost or misplaced.
Weichel’s lawyer, Christopher L. Nasson, said his client was overjoyed.
“It would be the understatement of the year to say that this is a great day for Fred and for all those who have supported him over the last 36 years,” Nasson said. “From our perspective, we’ve known Fred’s innocent, Fred knows he’s innocent ... [and] I think that anyone who has followed this case knows that he’s an innocent man.”
In an interview Monday evening, Weichel said the announcement was a “huge relief.”
“It’s great to be finally free, and have my name cleared,” Weichel said. He said he was deeply grateful to his supporters and his lawyers, who worked on his case for free
“They put their heart and soul into this,” he said. “They worked endless hours.”
Since his release from prison, Weichel has reacquainted himself with friends and family and tried to rebuild his life. Now, he finally can, he said.
“I’m just so happy to be away from all this stuff,” he said. “Today I can move forward.”
In his April decision, Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary Jr. wrote that the case against Weichel rested on tenuous eyewitness identification. LaMonica was shot in the parking lot outside his Braintree apartment when he arrived home after working the night shift for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
A teenager, who had drunk four or five beers, heard gunshots and briefly saw a fleeing suspect from 180 feet away. He helped police compile a composite sketch of the suspect and later identified Weichel as the shooter.
The judge found that Weichel may have been acquitted if authorities had shared a police report with the defense before trial. The report indicated that 10 prison guards believed the composite sketch resembled an inmate who was on furlough around the time of LaMonica’s slaying.
In affirming Veary’s decision in July, a single Supreme Judicial Court justice wrote that the state failed to demonstrate that Veary abused his discretion in granting Weichel a new trial.
It was Weichel’s third bid for a new trial. In 2004, a judge granted him a new trial, but the Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the conviction.
Even convicted murderer James “Whitey” Bulger had weighed in on Weichel’s case. In letters from prison, Bulger wrote that he knew Weichel had not killed LaMonica.
Bulger wrote that an unnamed boxer who was Weichel’s “pal” was the killer. But when asked to file an affidavit or testify on Weichel’s behalf, Bulger refused, noting that he had not even testified at his own trial in 2013.
Asked about the letters, Weichel said Bulger “gave nothing.”
Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Aimee Ortiz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Aimee_Ortiz.