A man from western Massachusetts imprisoned for nearly 35 years left state custody late Thursday.
William P. Cascone walked out of MCI-Norfolk in time to savor the evening air and twilight – and to pose for a photo with a legal team that has worked for five years to prove he did not get a fair trial in 1987, when he was convicted of setting a fire that killed three young people in North Adams.
“There’s a long way to go in this case. This is a great first step,” Charlotte Whitmore, supervising attorney with the Boston College Innocence Program, said from her car as she drove Thursday afternoon to Norfolk to secure Cascone’s release.On Thursday, Berkshire Superior Court Judge Michael K. Callan ordered a stay in the execution of Cascone’s sentence, pending a hearing on whether the BC program’s effort to win him a new trial succeeds. A hearing on that is set for Sept. 9.
Three young people died in the June 15, 1984, fire at a 279 State St. apartment building in North Adams.
Cascone was 17 at the time of the fire. He left MCI-Norfolk a man in his mid-50s, having lived in that medium-security prison, the state’s largest, since 1995.
The conditions of his release include a nightly curfew, requirements that he report regularly to probation officials and that he live with his mother at her home in Rowe, in western Franklin County.
The judge’s order to free Cascone notes that such a step can only be made under “exceptional circumstances.” Callan’s decision cites two Supreme Judicial Court cases that found that this test is satisfied when prosecutors agree to a stay in the execution of a sentence.
While the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office stopped short of fully assenting to the stay request, Callan’s order notes that it “admitted doubts” about the evidence used to convict Cascone.
The BC program, in a motion filed July 1, 2021, argues that current fire science, which took a leap forward even in the decade after Cascone’s conviction, calls into question claims made by prosecutors about where the fire began.
Beyond what it sees as outdated evidence, the BC program’s push to win a new trial for Cascone includes a witness who is said to be able to discredit evidence used at the trial to connect Cascone to the fire.
David J. Grimaldi, an attorney assisting the program, said in a statement Thursday he will continue working “to exonerate Bill Cascone.”
“The Court’s order releasing Bill is a tremendous step in the vindication of his innocence,” Grimaldi said.
Whitmore said in the statement that the program’s pro bono client had endured “so many years of wrongful imprisonment.”
In an interview, Whitmore said the release is not the first the Boston College program has secured, but his case is unique.
“Bill has served the most time, a really long time,” she said. “He always has a positive outlook. He’s really a special person.”
Cascone was convicted in 1987 of arson and of three counts of second-degree felony murder and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences on the murder counts. He has declined three times to be considered for parole, citing his unwillingness to admit to a crime he claims not to have committed.
That was one of the aspects of the case that drew the notice of the Boston College program.
The 1984 fire broke out just before dawn after an all-night party at the apartment. It killed two sisters sleeping in their mother Jeanette Scott’s apartment: Sandra, 4, and Charlene, 3. A teen, Brent “Buddy” Tatro, 16, also died.