Wrongful Convictions / Innocence Cases

Over the past decade, John Nardizzi and his team have investigated some of the most significant wrongful convictions cases in the US, including cases for James Watson, Gary Cifizzari, Dennis Maher, Estate of Kennth Waters, Michael O'Laughlin, Victor Rosario, Scott Hornoff, Tommy Rosa and many others. An investigation is ongoing in the conviction of client Brian Peixoto in a 1996 case in Bristol County. Many of these stories are documented at the New England Innocence Project. We investigate cases for both post-conviction relief in criminal matters as well as civil cases (either state tort claims or federal civil rights cases) whereby an exoneree files a lawsuit against a state official for intentional misconduct that led to the wrongful conviction. Honored for his work in this area, John won the Arc of Justice Award from the New England Innocence Project and the 2023 Investigator of the Year from the World Association of Detectives.

watson castro gaines wrongful conviction


Recent major case successes include:

~ In December 2022, A Suffolk Superior Court
Judge threw out Raymond Gaines' 1976 murder conviction, and ordered a new trial. Gaines was sentenced to life in prison for the 1974 armed robbery and murder of Peter Sulfaro, the owner of a shoe repair shop in Roxbury. The defense investigation showed the witness identification of Gaines was "...the result of unduly suggestive police procedures". Errors included multiple viewings of photo arrays; police telling a witness he "picked the wrong people" - and then showing the same array with only the new suspects added. Newly discovered Brady material including Boston police records showing Det. Peter O'Malley arrested "drug shooting gallery" operator David Bass even while securing Bass's false affidavit (Bass faced criminal charges even while testifying against Gaines). Bass himself later recanted his testimony against Gaines in 1990. "The Commonwealth did not disclose the Bass affidavit for nearly 30 years--despite its obligation to do so."

~ James Watson filed emergency motion due to the Covid-19 pandemic and received a stay of execution on his prison sentence pending litigation of motion for a new trial. The judge credited our investigation with "questions raised in this case of: hypnosis of identification witnesses and . . . the potential testimony, rewards, and inducements of a highly inculpatory trial witness, raise significant and potentially successful issues." The defense investigation resulted in affidavits from witnesses pointing to coercive interrogation techniques on a vulnerable witness that resulted in false testimony against Watson. Moreover, the DA who prosecuted the case, Timothy P. O’Neill, consulted with an expert witness who told him his detectives made an “error of major proportions” during the interview of a key witness by using hypnosis without recording the witness's comments prior to hypnosis. The DA never disclosed the existence of the expert report and put the witness on the stand anyway. (O'Neill is now subject of a
complaint before the Board of Bar Overseers). On April 16, 2020, after 40 years in prison, Mr. Watson walked out of prison— a free man. His conviction was formally overturned a year later.

~ In spring 2020, we investigated a 1979 rape-murder case that resulted in the exoneration of our client,
Gary Cifizzari. DNA evidence on the weapon had cleared Mr. Cifizzari— but matched a CODIS profile in the FBI database. Our exhaustive investigation developed the true history of the real culprit, a long-time police and FBI informant named Michael Giroux (who is deceased). Giroux was actually interviewed by police in connection with the Cifizzari case—he was suspected of breaking into the victim's apartment weeks earlier. On the night of the crime, Giroux was watching a boxing match at a bar just minutes from the victim's home. But police did not fully investigate him. A violent conman who committed crimes throughout his life, Giroux was involved in armed robberies, thefts, and stole money from his own family. He went on to be convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy in the killing of a Rhode Island landlord in January 1991.

~ In July 2014, client
Victor Rosario was freed after spending 32 years behind bars for a 1982 arson fire that killed eight people. A Middlesex Superior Court judge overturned Victor Rosario's one arson and eight murder convictions based on advances in arson forensics as well as major errors in the handling of the investigation, including interviews done with witnesses and Rosario himself.
In 2023, Rosario won a $13 million settlement from the City of Lowell.

Rosario press conference $13 mill settlement

~ a $3.1 million settlement for the wrongful conviction of
Dennis Maher for two rapes and an assault that occurred in 1983. Dennis Maher v. TOWN OF AYER, AYER POLICE DEPARTMENT, NANCY TAYLOR-HARRIS, CITY OF LOWELL, EDWARD F. DAVIS III, et al.; U.S. District Court Case, No. 06-CA-10514

~ a $3.4 million settlement for the wrongful conviction of
Kenneth Waters for the murder of a woman in May 1980. BETTY ANNE WATERS, Administratrix of the Estate of KENNETH WATERS v. TOWN OF AYER, NANCY TAYLOR-HARRIS, ARTHUR BOISSEAU, WILLIAM ADAMSON, and PHILIP L. CONNORS, U.S. District Court Case, No. 04-10521

~ Another client,
Michael O'Laughlin, filed a writ of habeas corpus and was successful in overturning of his conviction. MICHAEL O'LAUGHLIN, Petitioner, v. STEVEN O'BRIEN, Superintendent, Old Colony Correctional Center, Respondent, U.S. Court of Appeals For the First Circuit, Case No. 08-1010

Scott Hornoff, a Rhode Island police officer, served six years, four months and 18 days of a life sentence for another’s crime, and was freed on November 6, 2002, five days after the real killer, Todd Barry, confessed to the crime. We investigated the case to help Scott get backpay and reinstatement.

Other sites with information on wrongful convictions include:

The National Registry of Wrongful Convictions

Center on Wrongful Convictions

The Innocence Project

Death Penalty Information Center

New England Innocence Project