Judge vacates man's murder conviction after 20 years

A judge on Wednesday vacated the conviction of a man who spent two decades in prison for the murder of a teen in the Bronx, but he could face a new trial.

Richard Rosario, 40, was convicted in 1996 of fatally shooting 16-year-old George Collazo. Rosario has always maintained his innocence and says 13 witnesses placed him in Florida at the time of the murder. Rosario's lawyers claim police never contacted the alibi witnesses.

The decision to vacate Rosario's conviction came two months after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark succeeded District Attorney Robert Johnson and days ahead of a planned release of a "Dateline" digital series on NBCNews.com about the case. 

Clark asked to have Rosario's conviction thrown out, but didn't ask to dismiss the charges against him -- at least for now. In a statement, Clark said she will continue to investigate the murder and will complete interviews with Mr. Rosario's alibi witnesses.

"I've been in prison for 20 years for a crime I didn't commit," Rosario told the judge. "My family didn't deserve this. I didn't deserve this, and nor did the family of the victim. I hope that this conviction isn't just vacated, but that this is exonerated."

Police arrested Rosario after two witnesses identified him from police photos as the man who shot the victim in the head after an exchange of words on a Bronx street on June 19, 1996. No forensic or physical evidence tied Rosario to the crime.

The decision adds to a roster of more than 25 convictions from New York's high-crime 1980s and 1990s that prosecutors have disavowed over the last five years.

A meeting is scheduled for June 24 about the case.

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

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