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Massachusetts Drops Case Against Client Gary Cifizzari, Wrongfully Imprisoned for 35 Years

Tags: Pro Bono

The Worcester County District Attorney dropped its case against Gary Cifizzari of Taunton, Mass., who was wrongfully convicted of a 1979 murder and spent 35 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. 

“We are thrilled that Mr. Cifizzari was rightly exonerated today. No one should spend decades behind bars for a crime they did not commit,” said Ropes & Gray litigation and enforcement partner Kirsten Mayer. “We commend the Worcester District Attorney for assenting to our motion for a new trial and concluding that the charges against Mr. Cifizzari should be dropped in the interest of justice.” 

"Exonerations are always bittersweet,” said Radha Natarajan, co-counsel for Cifizzari and Executive Director of the New England Innocence Project. “During 35 years of wrongful imprisonment, Gary Cifizzari endured so much and lost so much. But today, he finally receives the justice he deserves and can celebrate the freedom he has again. Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case -- and lessons from it -- can prevent future injustices." 

On May 31, 2019, the New England Innocence Project and a pro bono Ropes & Gray litigation team filed a motion for a new trial in Worcester Superior Court on behalf of Mr. Cifizzari. Along with his brother, Mr. Cifizzari was wrongfully convicted of the 1979 murder of his great aunt, 75-year-old Concetta Schiappa. The May 31 motion exposed newly discovered and tested DNA evidence developed from the semen and saliva on the victim’s nightgown that exonerated Mr. Cifizzari and identified Michael Giroux as the true perpetrator of the crime through a CODIS DNA match. Mr. Giroux, now deceased, was originally a suspect in the case and questioned by police, but was never charged and later went on to commit other crimes.  

In addition, the motion detailed how the Commonwealth’s case against Mr. Cifizzari was built entirely on flawed bitemark comparison testimony, which the scientific community has since condemned as lacking any scientific basis. The motion also explained how one of the Commonwealth’s original experts, Dr. Richard Souviron, has since recanted the testimony he offered at Mr. Cifizzari’s trial, which was used to convict Mr. Cifizzari. 

On July 12, 2019, the court allowed Mr. Cifizzari to be released from prison after 35 years while the court considered his motion for a new trial. On December 10, 2019, the District Attorney filed an assent to the motion for a new trial, and the court allowed the motion for a new trial, officially overturning Mr. Cifizzari’s conviction. In addition, today the District Attorney filed a motion for nolle prosequi, stating that it is not in the interests of justice to prosecute Mr. Cifizzari further. 

For more information about The New England Innocence project, click here.

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