PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Emil Carsetti is still haunted by a crime he didn’t commit.
Carsetti spent two years in solitary confinement after a jury found him guilty of burning down the state’s prison in 1969.
The blaze – a massive embarrassment for the state – destroyed the Adult Correctional Institutions, and a Superior Court judge handed Carsetti a harsh sentence of 15 years in prison for his involvement.
But it was later determined that the West Warwick man had nothing to do with it.
The state’s star witness later admitted he’d lied, and the charges against Carsetti and another man were subsequently vacated. But not before he spent 728 days in the hole for a crime he didn’t commit.
Carsetti has been searching for answers ever since, wondering why he never received an explanation as to how his name became associated with the crime.
“It destroyed my whole life,” he previously told 12 News. “There’s a lot of anger in me, still after 53 years, I want to know why I got charged for that crime. That’s all I want to know.”
The 79-year-old recently received a payout from the state for the years he spent behind bars, thanks to a law designed to compensate exonerees for wrongful imprisonment.
While he’s glad exonerees are being compensated, Carsetti said no amount of money will ever give him back the time he lost and the effect solitary confinement had on his life.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, he would’ve been in there anyway,'” Carsetti said. “How the hell do you know I would have been in there anyway? This is what created me. They created everything I did from that day on.”
Decades later, Carsetti remains frustrated that the wrongful conviction remained on his criminal record.
“It’s still on there,” Carsetti said. “They could care less.”
But a change in state law now allows Carsetti and others like him to have their records scrubbed.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha called it an anomaly: convicted felons who had a charge on their records that was dismissed were unable to get that charge removed. Only those who had been acquitted at trial could get the charge expunged. Since Carsetti was found guilty, the charge from 1969 followed him for decades.
“It’s a really narrow fix,” Neronha explained. “So, if the state gets to the point where we realize we’ve got the wrong person and we don’t have the evidence, we dismiss that case. But if you had a prior felony, you couldn’t get that expunged. It didn’t make a lot of sense to us.”
Neronha said when it comes to most expungements, state law is clear. In order for a convicted felon to be eligible for expungement, the person must be a first-time offender and the crime can’t be violent.
In addition, Neronha said convicted felons must wait 10 years after their completed sentence to petition the courts.
Neronha said his office offers expungement clinics to help those who are eligible, which is something he knows will allow Rhode Islanders to move on with their lives.
“It’s really helping people,” he said. “If I could bring you to one of those clinics and you could see the look on the face of a mother that I’ll never forget … that we were able to do that free of charge and put her in a place where she could get a better job and, most importantly, provide for her son or daughter, or both. That’s a pretty powerful moment that will stay with me long after I’m attorney general.”
Through the clinics, Neronha said his office has helped nearly 2,000 Rhode Islanders determine their expungement eligibility.
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.