Boston Globe
 September 17, 2004

 Chelsea man to get new trial in '81 slaying conviction
 By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff 

 Twenty-one years after Angel S. Toro was sentenced to life in prison for 
 murdering a Howard Johnson's clerk in Dorchester during a holdup, a judge 
 tossed out the conviction yesterday and granted him a new trial.

 In a courtroom with about 20 of Toro's relatives and friends, several of 
 whom blew kisses, Superior Court Judge Mitchell J. Sikora Jr. granted a 
 Suffolk County prosecutor's request to vacate the conviction, because 
 Boston police did not provide Toro with an investigative report that 
 suggested another possible suspect.

 A homicide detective discovered the document in a police file about six 
 weeks ago. The May 1, 1981, report said a Revere man shot and killed by a 
 pharmacist during a robbery of a Malden drugstore the day before ''fits 
 the general description" of the man wanted for fatally shooting Kathleen 
 Downey on Easter Sunday at the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge.

 Authorities said police, in an apparent oversight, did not turn over the 
 report to Toro. Sikora said it ''arguably constituted an important lead" 
 in the Downey murder case, which ''turned very much on the issue of 
 identification" of the gunman by eyewitnesses.

 After Sikora vacated the conviction, Toro, clad in blue jeans and a 
 designer denim shirt, grinned broadly at his wife of many years, Debra, 
 and hugged his lawyer, Stephen Hrones.

 Relatives of Downey, an English instructor at Worcester State College who 
 was working part time as a desk clerk, did not attend the hearing or 
 respond to requests for an interview relayed by the Suffolk district 
 attorney's office.

 Toro, 51, of Chelsea, is the 10th Suffolk County defendant wrongfully 
 convicted since 1996, said David Procopio, a spokesman for District 
 Attorney Daniel F. Conley. Some were exonerated, he said, while others 
 received unfair trials.

 Since 1982, at least 23 prisoners in Massachusetts have been freed based 
 on new evidence that they were wrongfully convicted, according to the New 
 England Innocence Project, which specializes in using DNA testing to 
 reverse errant convictions. The wrongful convictions have undermined 
 confidence in the criminal justice system and spurred reforms.

 Assistant District Attorney Dennis H. Collins, who filed the motion 
 acknowledging that ''justice may not have been done" at Toro's 1983 murder 
 trial, said prosecutors wanted three weeks to decide whether they will 
 retry Toro. Collins called the recently discovered report ''exculpatory" 
 but disagreed with Hrones's characterization that it was ''highly 
 exculpatory."

 Indeed, Collins said, the detective who discovered the 23-year-old report, 
 Wayne Rock, recently obtained two family snapshots of Pasquale Cardone, 
 the man who was shot and killed by the pharmacist. Collins said the 
 photographs of the long-haired, mustachioed Cardone did not appear to 
 match the description of Downey's killer.

 ''We beg to differ," said Hrones, rising to his feet. Hrones, who has 
 represented four wrongfully convicted defendants in Suffolk County since 
 2000, including Toro, said he thought the snapshots closely resembled 
 eyewitness descriptions of Downey's murderer and a police artist's sketch 
 of the gunman. Hrones said he was ''greatly disappointed" that prosecutors 
 didn't immediately drop the first-degree murder charge against Toro. But 
 Sikora cut him off, saying both sides could make arguments at a hearing 
 scheduled for Oct. 5.

 Two eyewitnesses who were at the Howard Johnson's the night of Downey's 
 murder are both dead, Hrones said. A divorced couple from Pennsylvania 
 testified in Suffolk Superior Court on Aug. 9 that they had lied about how 
 Toro, an acquaintance, had looked a couple of days after Downey was slain.

 They said law enforcement officials from Boston and Pennsylvania pressured 
 them to say Toro had been clean-shaven, when, in fact, he had a neatly 
 groomed beard. By several accounts, Toro's appearance immediately after 
 the crime was important, because the eyewitnesses testified that Downey's 
 killer had no beard.

 But even if Suffolk prosecutors decide against retrying Toro, he will not 
 be freed immediately . The admitted cocaine dealer is also serving a 
 sentence of three years to life for a murder conviction in Florida. The 
 sentence, Debra Toro said, stemmed from a plea agreement that enabled Toro 
 to avoid the death penalty.

 Still, Hrones said he hoped Florida's parole board would order that Toro 
 be released, in part because he had been wrongly imprisoned in 
 Massachusetts.

 Debra Toro said a now-deceased Boston detective, Arthur Linsky, had a 
 vendetta against her husband. He had arrested him previously and had 
 framed him in Downey's murder, she said.

 Last month, after Rock discovered the crucial police report, Kathleen M. 
 O'Toole, appointed Boston police commissioner earlier this year, said in a 
 statement that she can't comment on police practices two decades ago. But, 
 she said, she has ''every confidence that our homicide unit and their 
 practices and procedures today are very professional."

 Rock attended yesterday's hearing. Debra Toro said she thanked him and 
 calling him ''the only honest police officer" to work on the Downey case. 

  Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

  

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