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Mass. Man, Convicted of Murder Decades Ago, Says DNA Evidence Exonerates Him

Joe Gratz
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/joegratz

A Massachusetts man convicted of a 1979 rape and murder in Milford is asking for a new trial, based largely on DNA evidence.

For almost 40 years, Gary Cifizzari has said he did not murder his great-aunt.

Radha Natarajan, director of the New England Innocence Project, said she decided to help Cifizzari after learning his conviction involved a forensic method called bite mark comparison.

"Bite mark comparison evidence is well-known to be unreliable," she said. "At the time of his conviction, of course, it was seen as reliable, although even at the time, his lawyer challenged the reliability of that evidence."

And since Cifizzari had no motive, she said, "it just didn't make sense, with his life, at 27 years old, he was going to get up and do something so incredibly depraved."

Natarajan said newly-tested DNA from the semen and saliva on the victim's nightgown proves Cifizzari could not have committed the crime — and that a previous suspect, who has since died, did.

The New England Innocence Project, along with Cifizzari's other lawyers, has asked the Worcester County District Attorney to hold a new trial and to release him in the meantime.

In a statement, the D.A.'s office said it's reviewing the new evidence to "make sure we get this right."

From the Worcester County District Attorney's office:

At this time, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the motions filed this morning by defense counsel. We have been working collaboratively with the defense counsel since they requested new DNA testing in this case. As a matter of history, the case is 40 years old with a conviction after trial that was affirmed more than 30 years ago by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The facts in this case are horrific and involve a particularly gruesome rape and murder. The Worcester County District Attorney’s Office works actively to ensure public safety and that every defendant receives a fair trial. We’re in the process of reviewing the motion, evidence and additional testing that has been, and can be, performed with modern science. We want to make sure we get this right. We’re committed to justice and we will continue to work with defense counsel to ensure justice is done.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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