The case for and against arson

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

FOR
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.

AGAINST
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.

FOR
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.

AGAINST
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.

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

AGAINST
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.

FOR
The original fire investigators were so sure that the fire was deliberately set that they did not consider other possible causes.

AGAINST
Investigators ignored the heater in the badly burned living room. Noting that the fire started late at night in March, an expert now says the heater is more likely than arson as the fire's source.

"Given the fact it's the right time of year, it's the right kind of scenario where, you know, these kinds of fires obviously happen at night, there's no way you can exclude that heating unit."
-Dr. Craig Beyler,
distinguished fire scientist.

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

DAVID BUTLER/GLOBE STAFF