Justifiable Homicide
- By V.A. Musetto | November 6, 2002 | 5:00am
A mother’s crusade. Running time: 86 minutes. Not rated (gore). At Anthology Film Archives, Second Avenue and Second Street, East Village.
THE documentary “Justifiable Homicide” is a thoughtful look at a painful incident that made headlines in 1995.
While many involved in that case – the fatal shooting of two Puerto Rican teenage cousins by two NYPD detectives – would rather it be forgotten, the film raises disturbing questions about how the incident was handled by the NYPD.
Cops said the young men, Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega – and a third, who survived – threatened them with guns during a botched robbery in The Bronx.
The deaths caused a furor at the time. The men’s families claimed that the cops – one a former bodyguard of Rudy Giuliani – used undue force.
The incident is examined in depth in “Justifiable Homicide,” directed by Jonathan Stack and Jon Osman.
The focal point is Margarita Rosario, mother of one of the dead men, who became a community activist in her fight to have the cops held accountable for the killings.
Forensic evidence and testimony from witnesses showed that Rosario and Vega were shot repeatedly in the back while lying facedown on the floor.
And although they had guns in their possession, they never fired a shot.
The two detectives were cleared in a close vote by a Bronx grand jury. After an investigation, the Civilian Complaint Review Board asked that the case be reopened, but the NYPD refused.
The film’s most powerful moment shows Margarita Rosario calling then-Mayor Giuliani’s phone-in radio show to ask about her son’s death.
The mayor refuses to allow her to speak, then berates the woman, blaming her son’s death on the way she raised him. Finally, Giuliani hangs up on her.
While it is obvious that the filmmakers went into this project with an agenda, they did try to give each side a chance to have its say.
In the end, they make a convincing argument that there was a miscarriage of justice as the result of a high-level cover-up by the NYPD.

THE NEW YORK TIMES FILM REVIEW : How Did Bullets End Up in the Floor?
Justifiable Homicide
- By DAVE KEHR | Published: November 6, 2002
On Jan. 12, 1995, two young Puerto Rican residents of the Bronx, Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega, were shot to death by detectives of the New York Police Department.
The officers said they were acting in self-defense, firing on two men in the act of committing an armed robbery. A grand jury believed them, and no charges were brought against them.
But Margarita Rosario, Anthony's mother, refused to let the matter rest. She took her case to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, whose investigators concluded that the detectives had used excessive and unnecessary force. Evidence from an autopsy and the testimony of a witness who had not been heard by the grand jury suggested that the two young men had been shot in the back while they were lying on the floor.
Still, no charges were brought against the officers. The makers of ''Justifiable Homicide,'' a documentary about the case that opens today at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, suggest that the subsequent firings of the director of the review board and the investigators assigned to the Rosario-Vega case were a result of the Giuliani administration's desire to make the case go away. One of the detectives involved in the killing, the film notes repeatedly, had been a voluntary bodyguard to Rudolph W. Giuliani during his mayoral campaign.
Directed by Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack, ''Justifiable Homicide'' is a partisan but not excessively polemical exploration of the killings and their aftermath. Using some of the dramatic techniques developed by Errol Morris in his 1988 ''Thin Blue Line,'' the filmmakers build an argument that is both intellectual and emotional, concentrating as much on the forensic evidence as on Ms. Rosario's passionate commitment to finding justice for her son.
In the film's most potent passage, the directors use a split screen technique to show Ms. Rosario placing a call to Mr. Giuliani's radio program during his term as mayor. One side of the screen shows Ms. Rosario as she politely but persistently attempts to present her case, while on the other side, in tape apparently provided by the mayor's office, Mr. Giuliani talks right over her, insisting on two points that the film says were not true: that gunfire was exchanged and that Anthony had a criminal record.
The filmmakers characterize the Rosario-Vega case as part of an epidemic of police shootings during the Giuliani administration, climaxing with the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999. ''Justifiable Homicide'' is a sobering reminder that there was more to Mr. Giuliani's mayoralty than Sept. 11.
Produced and directed by Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack; directors of photography, Mr. Osman and Teymoore Nabili; edited by David Moore, Frank Kauredren and Mr. Osman; music by Wendy Blackstone; released by Reality Films/Gabriel Films. At Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East Village. Running time: 85 minutes. This film is not rated.

DAILY VARIETY REVIEW : ‘Justifiable Homicide’
By Ronnie Scheib | JULY 11, 2002 | 10:01PM PT
“Justifiable Homicide” examines the questionable police shooting of two young Puerto Rican men in the Bronx in early 1995, an incident which presaged the linking of New York City with police brutality in headlines across the country. Filmmakers Jonathan Stack (“The Farm”) and Jon Osman never try to hike their partisan bias. But the real story of “Justifiable” is the amazing politicization of Margarita Rosario, the mother of one of the boys, in her journey from conservative Rudy Giuliani supporter to political activist and founder of “Parents Against Police Brutality.” Film’s release, originally skedded for September, was delayed for obvious reasons. In the interim, Rudy Guiliani has gained legendary status. Domestic future of doc, which casts Giuliani in a decidedly negative light, may hang on future metamorphoses of the mayor’s historically volatile public image.
Before 9/11 turned Giuliani into a national hero, the mayor’s popularity had been seriously undermined by his self-appointed role as fanatical apologist for New York’s Finest — even in the face of the sodomization of Abner Louima by police while in custody, and cops firing 41 bullets into an unarmed Amidou Diallo.
Film makes a strong case for some form of miscarriage of justice and subsequent high level cover-up in the Rosario shootings. It spends a lot of time with members of the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board that investigated the case and found the shootings and following police inquiry highly suspect.
But films that seek to convince through painstaking accumulation of detailed evidence seldom succeed in convincing the skeptical: If such pics show something vital had been left out of the evidence, the skeptical feel something equally vital may be left out of film they are watching. But here each revelation, precipitating a further stage in the emotional and political evolution of Rosario, gains resonance as a measure of her frustration.
If “Justifiable” posits the strong, articulate, beauteous Rosario as its heroine, following her as she reminisces while preparing a meal, comforts a grieving father or organizes another march, one doesn’t have to look far for the villain — one of the cops involved in the shooting was a volunteer bodyguard for Giuliani. Pic’s high point, captured by a hidden camera, concerns an infamous session of the mayor’s phone-in radio program where Giuliani, asked by Rosario why her son was repeatedly shot in the back while lying on the floor, lashes out at her, blaming her for her son’s death.
Lensing and tech credits are suitably gritty; Latin-toned music score by Wendy Blackstone gives pic a comfortable neighborhood feel.

NEW ENGLAND FILM : ‘Justifiable Homicide’
On a smaller scale but no less powerful, is Jon Osman’s excellent "Justifiable Homicide," an account of one woman’s struggles to bring her son’s killers to justice. Antonio Rosario and his cousin Hilton Vega, two teenage boys from the Puerto Rican community of the Bronx, were killed in early 1995 by police officers during a supposed robbery attempt. One of the police officers had been a volunteer bodyguard for then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The newspapers are quick to vilify the boys, describing them as nothing more than common thugs who deserved their fate. But Margarita Rosario knows here son was nothing of the sort. Fighting despair, she begins to press the authorities for answers.
"Justifiable Homicide" details her search, as she eventually finds her way to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent office of the city government. Splicing interviews with Margarita, CCRB staff, and valuable witnesses with evidence from variety of sources, Osman slowly builds up a convincing case against the policemen and proceeds up the ladder of responsibility for the cover up to Mayor Giuliani himself. He juxtaposes this crime story with Margarita’s growing political awareness, as she evolves from a passive Giuliani supporter to an active protestor and founder of Parents Against Police Brutality. Details slowly unfold, evidence builds upon evidence, building momentum all the while. Osman’s film simultaneously evokes both the anguish of knowing that the government is capable of utter wrongdoing and the hope of knowing that citizens will always find ways to resist and expose injustice. "Justifiable Homicide" grips, shocks, outrages, and uplifts -- a remarkable achievement. Essential viewing.

Justifiable Homicide
- In January 1995, Anthony Rosario took 14 bullets to the back and arms while lying face-down on a Bronx apartment floor during a police shootout that killed the teenager and his cousin, 21-year-old Hilton Vega. The NYPD needed just a week to shut the case and provide Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack's documentary with its title, but Justifiable Homicide meticulously uncovers a trail of outrageous force and craven concealment. It also chronicles the rebirth of Giuliani voter Margarita Rosario, mother to Anthony, as a formidable police-brutality activist—who nonetheless can only attain an audience with the mayor by calling in to his radio show. True to form, Rudy berates the grieving mom, tells three discrete lies to his listeners over her protestations, and then disconnects her.

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