Boston, Columns, Violence, Youth
Jun 09, 1997
MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Home was just 50 yards away


June 8, 1997

Orla Benson, murdered on Sept. 23, 1995, in an Allston playground, was young and alive again Friday as her biographer discussed her wonderful life in glowing terms while a Suffolk Superior Court jury was being selected to try the man charged with her killing. Benson had come from Ireland that summer to work when she was raped and stabbed to death by a degenerate who left her dead in the dark on the steps of Ringer Park.

“Orla was a nice girl,” Thomas O’Leary was saying. “She was young and pretty and totally innocent. And she had just spent the happiest night of her life in Boston when this happened. She would have graduated from college that fall “She was out with about 30 friends. They had been to South Boston, to Cambridge, to Brighton. They rented a trolley for a party to celebrate a girl’s wedding, and they were going home to Ireland in a few days. She was 50 yards from her apartment.”

O’Leary today is Orla Benson’s voice, her best friend in court. He is a sergeant of police with the Homicide Unit, and his duty since early in the day that Sept. 23 has been to bring her killer to court and help deliver some measure of justice to her horribly wounded family.

It is always an event of tremendous significance, the murder of a human being. And whether it is multiple counts, as in Oklahoma City, or a single victim, the word “closure” becomes something for glib psychiatrists or talk-show callers because the pain of survivors is of such depth and duration that it simply becomes part of their own existence.

“Plenty of sleepless nights over this one,” O’Leary said. “I can see her sometimes. I know her.”

In the courtroom, Benson’s father, Tom, an engineer from Killarney, sits daily not 10 feet behind Tony Rosario, a convicted rapist who is accused of forever silencing the sounds of Tom Benson’s only daughter’s life. The elder Benson is of slight build and has a soft spring rain of a smile and gentle blue eyes permanently dulled by this inexcusable death.

Rosario is 29 now. He was born in New York and brought up in Boston, where he was a menace. All last week, he wore a blue sweatshirt, black pants, black sneakers, leg irons and no hint of expression on a face unfamiliar with remorse as he listened to pretrial arguments of the prosecutor, James Larkin, and the objections of his own gifted appointed counsel, Roger Witkin, in the third-floor room where a panel of citizens will address the brutality of Orla Benson’s murder.

Rosario is a living advertisement for the flaws of a system where a single bureaucratic error can result in a monstrous evil being committed. In 1991, he was convicted of raping and beating a woman at the Forest Hills T station. He got 10 years but was out two years later.

Free on probation, he was arrested on April 24, 1994, for raping a 14-year-old runaway at knifepoint after she fled, naked, from his car. But the runaway kept right on running and would not testify, so Rosario went unconvicted.

He was indicted for unarmed robbery in Cambridge, but somehow never had his probation revoked. Then on July 31, 1995, seven weeks before Orla Benson died, Rosario was grabbed for the rape of a 15-year-old special needs student in Brighton. She had been working for Rosario, who had, quite amazingly, been hired by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to boss teenagers retained for a summer of cleaning playgrounds.

“He told her unless she had sex with him, she wouldn’t get paid,” a lawyer familiar with the case of the special needs student said, adding that Rosario took her to his apartment on Glenville Avenue in Allston “and told her: No sex, no check. But, because she was retarded, he beat it.”

“He never should have been out,” Tom O’Leary said. “The system took a hit for him being on the payroll. Probation took a hit, too. But Orla took the biggest hit of all.”

Thursday, Rosario had an opportunity for minimal decency when he accepted, then reneged, on an agreement that had him pleading guilty to first-degree murder. But lunch with jailhouse lawyers, along with success in beating the system and making a sad joke of probation, caused him to change his mind.

So Tom Benson and his family will be forced to endure a trial where his daughter will die again; a trial where judge and jury will surely see in the testimony offered that this world needs people like Orla Benson as much as it needs a sunrise, because her biographer remains on the case, insistent on delivering his message.

“I know her,” said Sergeant Thomas O’Leary. “She was a wonderful girl.”