PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Emil Carsetti gets emotional when he talks about the two years he spent 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 turned out, the West Warwick man didn’t have anything to do with it.
The state’s star witness later admitted he’d lied and the charges against Carsetti and a second man were subsequently vacated. But not before he spent 728 days in the hole for a crime he didn’t commit. And he said the experience has caused him personal and legal problems for five decades.
“It destroyed my whole life,” he said during an exclusive interview with Target 12. “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.”
Carsetti is still searching for answers all these years later, saying he’s never understood or received any type of explanation detailing how he his name ever became associated with the crime. But thanks to a 2021 law he’s now receiving a payout from the state for the years he wrongfully served behind bars.
The legislation – sponsored by Rep. Patricia Serpa – has so far resulted in four exonerees receiving nearly $1 million combined, including Carsetti, Dionisio Polanco, Christopher Moran and Paul Courteau. Courteau, who was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in 1981 and served 15 years in prison, received more than $500,000 from the state in March.
“I’m feeling like a million dollars,” Courteau said at the time. “It’s time to move forward.”
Another six people have petitioned the courts for nearly an additional $1 million, and Serpa argued the program is well worth the cost.
“I’m happy these people came forward and to those who may criticize how much it may cost I say, ‘Wait a minute, hold on a second, how much did it cost for the state to prosecute and hold these people at the ACI for all the years collectively for which they were imprisoned for something they didn’t do,” Serpa said.
Serpa initially drafted the legislation for one of her constituents, Scott Hornoff, a former Warwick police officer who served more than six years after being wrongfully convicted of killing Victoria Cushman in 1996. Hornoff’s petition is still being considered by the court, and Serpa said she’s ready to submit a new bill seeking even more money for exonerees if he doesn’t get approval by January.
“It really is never too late and I really do want to get this wrong righted for Scott before I leave this earth,” Serpa said.
R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office is responsible for evaluating whether petitioners qualify under the law – an unusual situation considering the office likely prosecuted each of the cases that turned out to be wrong.
Asked for comment on Carsetti’s case, spokesperson Brian Hodge said the attorney general’s office “confirmed and the Superior Court agreed that Mr. Carsetti met the criteria set forth in statute.”
“The General Assembly’s determination at those pardoned or wrongfully convicted and incarcerated and later determined to be innocent was a policy decision by that branch of government, affirmed by the governor, with which the attorney general takes no issue,” he added.
For Carsetti, who will turn 80 years old next year, he’s glad exonerees are getting compensated for the wrongful convictions. But he said no amount of money will ever give him back the time he lost for a crime he didn’t commit and the effect solitary confinement had on his life.
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, he would have been in there anyway,'” Carsetti said with tears in his eyes. “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.”
Sarah Guernelli and Jacqueline Gomersall contributed to this report.