The case for and against arson

Victor Rosario remains imprisoned after a jury convicted him in 1983 of arson and eight murders.

Rosario signed a confession that police used to frame the arson as a Molotov cocktail fire, ignited by Rosario and two friends tossing firebombs through first-floor windows.

The confession, written in English, a language Rosario did not understand, may have been coerced. The investigation failed to produce any evidence of a Molotov cocktail.

A neighbor said he saw Rosario standing with his left arm raised in front of the bay windows and heard glass breaking. He said he saw two other men standing nearby.

Rosario and two others have always maintained they were nearby when they responded to screams and the smell of smoke, breaking windows to try to get inside.

As evidence of arson, investigators said the fire began in two different rooms, pointing to heavy charring and a common wall that stood intact.

Experts now say those hot spots were ideal for heavy burning because of good ventilation and a cubby beneath the front stairs. And the common wall, protected by plaster, would not have burnt through.

There are no windows in the front hall where investigators said a firebomb landed.

From where Rosario was spotted outside, a flaming bottle could not have been thrown into the front hall.

Investigators ignored the heater in the badly burned living room. Experts now say it is at least as likely as arson for the fire’s source.

SOURCES: Lowell City Engineer's office; trial transcripts; State Fire marshall; Lowell police