"The great enemy
of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and
dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of
thought." ~ John F. Kennedy 35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 - 1963)
Accident? The inability of arson investigators to recognize the
could put YOU in prison - or worse.
How many could be
wrongfully convicted of arson?
There are 500,000 structure fires overall a year; 75,000 of them are
labeled suspicious. John Lentini, who has campaigned widely to improve
investigators' knowledge, says most experts he talks with believe the
accuracy of fire investigators is at best 80% — meaning as many as
15,000 mistaken investigations each year, and who knows how many
William Haughey of Putnam
County, NY spent 8 years in prison for a fire declared to be arson by a
fire investigator, Robert Geoghegan, who failed to rule
out electrical or other accidental causes. He
enlisted support from the Jeffery Deskovic Foundation, and kept up a
letter-writing campaign. Among those he contacted was Robert
then running for Putnam County District Attorney against the DA who
prosecuted him. Mr. Tendy was elected and took a careful look at
evidence in the case. On May 2, 2016, he asked the Court to
Haughey's conviction and, in spite of opposition by the New York
Attorney General, Mr. Haughey was freed.
When he was 14
years old, under the pressure of interrogation, Zachary Handley
confessed to setting fire to a stretch of rowhouses in Stockerton,
PA. He quickly recanted, but his admission and the
testimony of an eyewitness were enough for a Northampton County judge
to convict him in juvenile court. What he didn't know then --
what the judge himself, 7 years later, uncovered -- was that the star
witness was herself a firebug. Thanks to the honesty of Judge
Anthony Beltrami, Zachary's name has been cleared and his conviction
On February 24, 1992, a fire
raced through the trailer home of Claude Garrett and his girlfriend,
Lori Lee Lance outside Nashville, TN. The fire claimed Lori's
life that night. The State used junk science, innuendo and
gut-punching emotionalism to take Claude's life, sending him to prison
for life for what experts now agree was an accidental fire.
A Walworth County, WI
prosecutor and defense attorney erred, and
a detective gave “false testimony,” combining to send a teen to
juvenile prison for arson in a 2013 case, the state Court of Appeals
has ruled. The court wrote that Walworth County sheriff's
Jeffrey Recknagel “gave demonstrably false testimony” and that the
assistant district attorney compounded the problem by introducing
inadmissible testimony and arguing evidence that was not true.
a change of course for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which has
traditionally allowed false and inadmissible testimony on the theory
that it is up to the trier of fact (usually a jury) to figure it out.
In 1979, James Hugney of
East Shore, PA was convicted of murder and arson in a house fire that
took the life of his son. Experts
for the state testified the fire was an arson based on pour patterns
around the bed of James Hugney Jr. There were, in fact, no pour
patterns, and three international fire scientists could
not conclude the fire as an arson using modern fire science.
years, James Hugney has been freed from prison.
A judge has granted a new
trial to a Battle Creek, MI man convicted in
the 1995 arson of a home and the death of two young children. Michigan
Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law
School argued that prosecutors presented faulty evidence at trial that
the fire was arson. His trial defense attorney
stated that the fire science in use by experts at the time caused
everyone to believe the fire was an arson as opposed to being
accidentally set ... she had
to focus on who committed the arson, rather than on whether it was an
intentionally caused fire.
Phoenix arson investigator Fred Andes to
his arson dog, Sadie, when she failed
to find accelerants at a fire
scene: "Just fake it for me, OK?"
The Phoenix Fire
Department's elite fire investigations unit,
once lauded as the most successful arson squad in the country, is being
investigated for allegations of misconduct. They made arrests in
more than half of the fires they said were arson. The
problem? They conducted shoddy, biased investigations that led to
false arson findings, and the arrests of innocent people for crimes
that never happened in the first place. Follow NBC News 12's
Wendy Halloran's expose here.
Arson charges against
Robert Douglas Gibson, the owner of a fire-ravaged Lost Barrio
warehouse store in Tucson, Arizona, were dismissed last week after a
judge ruled investigative practices used by the Tucson Fire Department
and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
didn't meet national standards.
Two men who claim they are
innocent of arsons that killed their
children are hoping scientific advancements in fire investigation in
recent decades will clear their names. Davey J. Reedy, 57, is on
parole after serving 20 years for the 1987 arson deaths of his two
children in Roanoke; and Michael L. Ledford,
36, is serving a 50-year sentence for the 1999 arson death of his
1-year-old son in Stuarts Draft.
A veteran Green Bay, WI police
officer, John Maloney was convicted of murder, arson and mutilating a
corpse in the 1998 death of his estranged wife, Sandra. But the
evidence of arson was concocted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice
investigators, who used forensic fraud and perjury to help a
now-disgraced prosecutor get the first conviction of a Wisconsin police
officer for the most serious felony under the law. Despite
evidence of his innocence, Maloney remains in prison for lack of legal
Four years ago, Victor Caminata of Cadillac,
convicted of arson and sentenced to 9 to 40 years in prison. The
evidence? Char marks in the basement and his girlfriend's
testimony that she had been about to break up with him. Attorneys
from the Michigan Innocence Project convinced both a judge and
assistant attorneys general that the real cause of the fire was the
cause originally determined by local firefighters: a faulty
Greg Kinsela of Pickens, SC
is another example of Dr. Gerald Hurst's observation: "If there
is a fatal fire and someone survives, the survivor will be charged with
arson and murder." Greg's wife, Cheryl, died of smoke inhalation
in a freak fire that occurred in a shed at their home in July,
2010. In December, 2012, despite the best efforts of ATF agents
with hi-tech junk science presentations, it took a jury just one hour
to find him not guilty.
Stephen Keyes was convicted
of two counts of first-degree murder
and arson in a 1996 fire at his home in Springville, near Cedar Rapids,
Iowa. Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds is considering a
request by Keyes' attorney to review the case, since his office
implemented a policy last year designed to
prevent wrongful arson convictions in the face of changing fire
science. Keyes is seeking a new trial based
largely on a report from
Gerald Hurst, a prominent defense expert from Texas who worked on the
Willingham case and others, that concluded the investigation was based
on techniques "long relegated to the category of old wives' tales."
After spending 26 years in
prison, David Gavitt is a free man.
Gavitt, now 53, was convicted in 1986 in the arson deaths of his wife
and two daughters. He was serving three life sentences at Carson City
Correctional Facility when lawyers and law students from the Michigan
Innocence Clinic took on his case three years ago and filed a Motion
for Relief from Judgment in 2011. After extensive examination of
records and the evidence, Ionia
County Prosecutor Ron Schafer signed a stipulation and order,
acknowledging that Gavitt was entitled to a new trial, that the
prosecutor's office is not going to retry him, and that he should be
released from prison. Schafer said. “At
best, we have a fire that is undetermined (in origin and cause).” Chief
Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth-Kreeger ordered that
Gavitt's charges be dismissed, and he was released from prison.
After a quarter-century in
prison for setting a fire that killed a Chicago woman and her five
children, James Kluppelberg has been freed, as Cook County prosecutors
unexpectedly dropped the case against him. The
friend who implicated Kluppelberg has admitted he had lied because he
was facing his own criminal charges. Defense
attorneys also claimed prosecutors had failed to turn
over information about a woman who had set a fire a block from the
Lupercio home on the same night. That woman confessed to the other fire
and told police she was too drunk to remember if she had set the
Lupercio fire as well.
In the 12 years he has been
on Pennsylvania's death row, Daniel
Dougherty has maintained that he did not set the fire that killed his
two young sons in their Northeast Philadelphia home on Aug. 24,
1985. His fight to prove his innocence is now in a Common Pleas
His lawyers are trying to show that the lethal blaze was not arson but
a tragic accident - and that Dougherty should be given a new
number of forensic scientists and others are calling for
additional reviews of arson-murder cases because evidence
was analyzed by methods now called into question or proved wrong.
Members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission say they don't have
the jurisdiction to investigate these cases, but they have told the
Texas Innocence Project to team up with the State Fire Marshal's Office
to determine whether the state has incarcerated people for
arson-murders based on outdated science.
The Kentucky State Court of Appeals
has reversed Susan Lukjan's arson conviction for the fire that
destroyed her business in St. Matthews, KY. The trial judge had
refused to allow Susan's expert, who said the cause of the fire was
undetermined, to testify, saying he was not qualified because he does
not have a sate private investigator's license. However, the
trial judge allowed 3 prosecution witnesses to testify without
qualifying them as experts.
Kristine Bunch of
Greenburg, Indiana has been in prison since 1996, convicted of arson
and murder in a fire that claimed the life of her young son. Her
conviction was based on junk science and made a certainty when the
prosecution and ATF hid evidence of her innocence. The
Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law
is seeking her exoneration.
UPDATE: 8/22/12 -- Kristine Bunch was released on bail to await
retrial by Decatur County, Indiana prosecutors. It was the first
time she and her 16-year-old son have been together outside prison --
UPDATE: 12/18/12 -- The Court granted a motion filed by State
prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Kristine Bunch.
Journal Special Report: Burning Questions
by Dee J. Hall
Joey Awe’s Marquette County bar burned down in 2006, authorities
immediately suspected the gregarious, disabled Gulf War veteran of
Brown Jr., 33, of Pittsburgh, PA who has been in state prison since
serving three consecutive life prison terms, claims that he has new
evidence that shows that two witnesses who received reward money after
the trial did not disclose potential payment at trial and that the fire
on Bricelyn Street in Homewood wasn't arson. That evidence came as a
result of an investigation conducted by the Innocence Institute of
Point Park University.
Strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber in February,
2004, just moments from his execution for setting a fire that killed
his three daughters, Cameron
Todd Willingham declared his innocence one last time. "
I am an innocent man, convicted of a crime I did not commit,"
said angrily. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did
do." Four fire cause and origin experts -- Gerald Hurst, John
John DeHaan and Kendall Ryland -- agree. "There's nothing to suggest to any reasonable arson
investigator that this
was an arson fire," said Hurst, a Cambridge University-educated chemist
has investigated scores of fires in his career. "It was just a fire."
three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived an
appeal by George A. Souliotes, convicted of setting a 1997 fire that
killed a woman and her two children, even though his lawyers missed a
legal deadline in filing it. Souliotes'
prosecution relied heavily on evidence that the fire
was started with a flammable liquid and that its residues were found on
Souliotes' shoes. A scientist years later showed that the substance on
the shoes was different from what was found at the fire. That evidence
proves Souliotes is innocent.
UPDATE - April 26, 2012: On April 26, 2012, federal magistrate
Michael Seng found that Mr. Souliotes made a sufficient showing
of actual innocence and recommended that the district court now
consider his underlying constitutional claims raised in his federal
petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Those claims had previously been
dismissed by the district court as having been untimely filed. It
is now for the federal district court judge to decide whether to accept
the findings and recommendations. If he does, the matter should
proceed to a hearing on Mr. Souliotes's claims of ineffective
assistance of counsel, juror misconduct and actual innocence.
UPDATE - July 3, 2013: Northern California Innocence
Project client George Souliotes will soon be released from prison,
after his attorneys from NCIP, Morrison & Foerster, LLP and Orrick,
Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP successfully negotiated an agreement to
secure his immediate freedom following 16 years of wrongful
incarceration. Souliotes was wrongfully convicted of arson and triple
murder in 2000 and sentenced to three life terms without parole. This
agreement confirms his exoneration of arson and murder.
owner Charles Bryan, Jr. was charged with arson and insurance fraud for
a fire that destroyed his and 7 other businesses in Wauseon, Ohio in
2007. The charges were based not on science, not on physical
evidence, but on nothing more than speculation that he might
financially gain from the fire. Judge Charles Wittenberg ruled
that the state failed to prove that Mr. Bryan had financial
problems. (Of course, the cost of defending himself has probably
early 2001, James Hebshie’s Taunton convenience store was
struggling. He had tried selling it without luck. Then, on a Saturday
in April, seven minutes after the security system recorded him leaving,
the building broke out in flames. Five years later, Hebshie was
convicted of arson. Prosecutors pointed
to his potential motives and testimony from state investigators who
said the fire began in his store. Today, one of the nation’s
leading fire scientists is questioning the
verdict, the latest in a string of Massachusetts arson convictions now
UPDATE: November 16, 2010 -
US District Judge Nancy Gertner has ordered a new trial for James
theorizing about arson, about Billy’s [arson sniffing dog] mystical
prowess, and the generic laboratory results were presented as ‘science’
to the jury, and, as a result, Hebshie was convicted,’’ Gertner wrote.
She added that much of the evidence should have been excluded and that,
if it had, jurors may have acquitted Hebshie. His appeal
M. Kempthorne, commented, “You
could tell the prosecutors in this case that the science was wrong.
They would not listen.’’ Rush to Judgment.
UPDATE: July 10, 2014
- Middlesex Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman issued a 99-page opinion
that overturned Rosario's arson and murder convictions based on
advances in fire science and new information in the area of false
confessions. He has been released on bond pending the
Commonwealth's decision whether or not to recharge him.
"He is like the father of
the science-based fire investigation, along
with a couple others who were willing to take fire investigation from
what was basically an art to a science," Jim Mazerat, a 37-year fire investigator
from New Orleans, says.
"That met a lot
of resistance from your average fire investigator, so you have to have
real character to be able to stand up to that." Dozens of
innocent people literally owe their lives to him.
Curtis Severns has been in federal prison since
Convicted of intentionally starting the fire in his gun shop, he has 25
more years on his sentence. Severns has maintained his innocence all
along. As in many arson cases, he was convicted almost exclusively by
the testimony of fire investigators who relied on assumptions that some
of the leading arson experts in the country now say are false. In fact,
new evidence and a Texas Observer investigation reveal that Severns
in federal prison in Beaumont for a crime he didn’t commit.
On April 23, 2003, Rose was sleeping on the sofa in
her living room in
Ashland, Ohio when she awoke to find a fire on the home's second
floor. She tried to rescue her 11-month-old twin daughters, Lucie
and Julia, but was driven back by the heavy smoke. The children
died of smoke inhalation. Rose was charged with arson and 2
counts of murder, and the death penalty was sought. The key
evidence offered at trial was the "expert" testimony of EMT Kevin
Rosser, who claimed that he noticed "large particle soot" on Rose's
face at the fire scene. Holding himself out as a fire expert,
Rosser opined that such soot is only produced in the early stages of a
fire, meaning Rose set the fire herself. The presiding judge
refused to conduct a Daubert
hearing on the scientific validity of EMT Rosser's testimony.
Rose was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
Fortunately, Judge James D. Sweeney recognized junk science proffered
by an unqualified witness. He has vacated Rose's conviction and
ordered a new trial. Click HERE to read his
January 7, 2009
UPDATE: The State of Ohio appealed Judge Sweeney's order for a
new trial, alleging that he abused his discretion in so doing. On
April 23, 2010, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Sweeney's
reversal of Kate's conviction.
your house caught fire, could you prove you didn't commit arson?
WTHR-TV's 13 Investigates looks into the case of an Indiana man whose
arson conviction was reversed by an appeals court. The case raises
questions about how arson investigations are run.
Injustice Part One - In a small river town known to take a gamble,
there is a smoldering burn of injustice. A midnight fire in April 2000
sent flames belching from Robin Montgomery's house and claimed
everything he owned - including his freedom.
Injustice Part Two - They are supposed to be Indiana's elite in
fire investigation. But a nationally reknown scientist says state arson
teams here and across the country are using outdated, unproven
techniques. Some experts say it's putting innocent suspects behind bars
and even to death.
UPDATE - May 12, 2008: The charges against Rob Montgomery have
It took a Fayette County, PA jury just 25 minutes to
figure out Bret Shallenberger was innocent of hiring a former employee
to burn down Shallenberger's profitable business. It's the local
prosecutor, who promised the actual arsonist immunity in exchange for
framing Shallenberger, who should be on trial.
A Waco, TX attorney has launched an innocence
project at Baylor
University, choosing one of the most gripping cases in McLennan County
history as the group’s first assignment. Since
February, Walter M. Reaves Jr. and three Baylor Law School
students have been poring over evidence from the 1988 trial of Ed Graf.
The Hewitt resident was convicted of killing his two stepsons by
burning them alive in a storage shed behind their home. He is serving a
life sentence in a Gatesville prison. Graf's conviction was based
entirely on circumstantial evidence. Deciding
someone’s guilt on such measures is not prudent, Reaves
said. Once someone is painted as a criminal, almost any action they
take can be construed to fit that theory, he said, even though there
may be innocent explanations for it.
UPDATE - May 29, 2008 - The Texas Observer's
Dave Mann takes an in-depth look at the evidence in Ed Graf's
case. Victim of
The fire swept quickly through the red brick
consumed the sofa and love seat and caught the curtains, burning so
brightly that an orange glow filled narrow Carver Street in Northeast
Philadelphia's Summerdale section. Daniel Dougherty, a
26-year-old mechanic with a drinking problem, ran
out of the fiery home, cried for help, and grabbed a garden hose to try
to douse the flames. But it was no use. The fire was relentless, and
its choking smoke soon reached his two sons, Danny Jr., 4, and John, 3,
upstairs in their beds. Nearly 22 years later, from a cell on
Pennsylvania's death row,
Dougherty is fighting to prove he did not set the blaze that took the
boys' lives -- and is counting on an evolving science to save his own.
After a house burned down
on Bay-Arenac County Line
Road near Bay City, MI, Pinconning-Fraser Fire officials called
Michigan State Police
fire investigator Jeffrey Wallace to the scene. They suspected arson,
they told him. And when Wallace showed up with his arson dog named Cops
evidence that accelerants fueled the blaze, they had all the evidence
needed to bring charges - against Wallace.
That's because local firefighters intentionally ignited the abandoned
structure - without using any accelerant - in a ''sting'' on Wallace
executed in conjunction with Michigan State Police and other agencies.
April 2011 Although government and insurance company fire investigators
found no evidence of arson at the fire scene, scientific principles
were cast aside as authorities went about "proving" Bruce Mason was
behind the fire. To overcome the truth at trial, the federal prosecutor
presented false testimony and junk science, and systematically and
repeatedly withheld the empirical evidence that disproved it. After
trial, the prosecutor illegally removed the exculpatory evidence that
would have proven Mason’s innocence and the prosecutor’s wrongdoing,
from custody in the US Attorneys Office, and destroyed it.
On a warm August night in
2004, Michael Espalin and his dog
watched Riverside, CA firefighters douse seven burning palm trees on a
residential street. It was 1 a.m., an unusual time to be walking a dog,
or so thought an arson investigator. After answering a number of questions,
Espalin, then 31, was asked to rub his face and hands on a gauze pad
and sent on his way.
Half a year later, Espalin was charged as a serial arsonist,
accused of lighting 21 fires, mostly trees and bushes, in
eyewitnesses or traditional evidence linked Espalin to the
crimes. But the Riverside County district attorney's office built a
case against him based on a bloodhound allegedly picking up his scent
on a charred incendiary device and cold crime scenes and matching it to
the pad. After Espalin
spent two years in jail awaiting trial, a jury
deadlocked 9 to 3 in January for acquittal. Most jurors did not believe
that the bloodhound, Dakota, found Espalin's scent at the scene of the
fires days and weeks after they were set. Prosecutors say they intend to try Espalin
a second time.
UPDATE - October 25, 2008 -- Michael Espalin was, indeed, retried, in
2007, and he was found not guilty. Unable to post $500,000 bail,
Michael spent 2 years in jail pre-trial. He has sued Riverside
Fire Department officials and the dog handler. California
municipalities have already paid out over $2.3 million to settle other
wrongful arrest/conviction lawsuits.
clues were everywhere. A young woman lay
dead in a burned cabin at a church camp near East Stroudsburg, PA,
while her father survived.
Most of the lessons taught to budding fire investigators stood out at
the scene. The local experts — the county fire marshal, a state-hired
fire analyst, a chemist — spoke without hesitation that it all proved
arson — and murder.
No one questioned their conclusion. It was a textbook case, and the
father, Han Tak Lee, was dealt a guilty verdict and a life
Except the textbooks were wrong. Within a few years of Lee's
conviction, scientific studies smashed decades of earlier, widely
accepted beliefs about how fires work and the telltale trail they leave
Also see John Lentini's report regarding Mr. Lee's case, "A Calculated
Arson," in pdf format.
In April 2002, a Rapides Parish, Louisiana grand
indicted Amanda Hypes on
charges of arson and murder in relation to a house fire that took the
lives of her three children. The charges were based on a
California fire expert's
findings—an analysis conducted more than a year after the blaze was
extinguished and the house was razed. Prosecutors said they would
demand the death penalty. Hypes remained in jail
for more than four years awaiting trial
until June, 2006, when a judge dismissed the indictment and ordered her
released. He ruled that the initial arson finding by Louisiana
authorities was based "merely on an old wives' tale" and that "every
shred of evidence to prove or disprove a possible crime was destroyed
and placed in a pile."
arson expert hired by Lisa Greene's defense team says the Midland, NC
mother did not set the Jan. 10, 2006 house fire that killed her two
interviews with the Charlotte Observer, John Lentini, a
investigator in Marietta, Ga., said a lit candle in the children's
bedroom started the fire. Lentini
-- a national advocate of using research-based
methods to investigate fires -- said local and state investigators are
relying on outdated techniques to determine where the fire started and
how it spread.
UPDATE: Lisa Greene was found guilty of murder and arson.
She was sentenced to life in prison.
Kemper, a suspect in an alleged arson that took the life of her son,
denied nine times that she had anything to do with the fire. Then the
St. Louis County police detective resorted to one of the oldest tricks
in the book -- he told Kemper that she had failed a lie detector test.
Later that day, Kemper admitted that she set the fire to get out from
under the burden of being the sole provider to her family and to
collect insurance proceeds. But the confession did not fit the facts of
the crime, the motive evidence was weak, and Sandra had passed the lie
detector test with flying colors. The trial judge declared a
mistrial on issues related to the polygraph, and Missouri's high court
has now ruled that Sandra cannot be retried.
out of prison didn't free Jennifer Hall.
Friends call and ask her to go out, but she mostly stays home. She
college courses — online so she does not have to leave the house.
Hall, who lives in Shawnee, KS with her parents, was convicted in 2001
starting a fire at Cass Medical Center in Harrisonville, where she
as a respiratory therapist.
But last year a judge threw out the verdict and wrote a ruling highly
of Hall's first attorney. At a second trial, in February, a jury took
hours to decide the fire was caused by an electrical short in an old
By then Hall, now 24, had been paroled after serving one day short of
conviction is proof that, in Wisconsin, you can convict someone
of arson even when the cause of a fire cannot be determined. All
it takes is a win-at-all-costs prosecutor like Vince Biskupic, perjured
from state "arson experts", the lies of a paid-off snitch and a
Ken Richey Colombus Grove, Ohio Complete transcript of Frontline Scotland'sKilling
U.S. Supreme Court flips reversal, sends
case back to 6th Circuit
for Decision (pdf)
August 11, 2007
Court Orders New Trial for Kenny Richey
the second time, a federal appeals court has ordered a new trial for an
Ohio man convicted of setting a fire that caused the death of a
two-year-old girl that he was babysitting. Investigators said Kenneth
Richey set the fire to kill his ex-girlfriend who was in the apartment
downstairs. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 that
Richey's case was hampered by ineffective counsel because his attorney
did not challenge questionable arson evidence presented during his 1986
trial. The court ordered the state of Ohio to retry Richey within
days or set him free. That is exactly the same ruling the same court
made in 2005, but that ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
More than 17 years after
Ernest Willis went to death row for setting a house fire that consumed
women, West Texas prosecutors cited new suspects Monday. Faulty wiring perhaps. Maybe a defective ceiling
fan. Finding little to no
evidence of arson, the Fort Stockton district attorney
said he would file a motion today that is expected to make Willis the
inmate to walk free from Texas' death row in seven years. Read more about Ernest's
and the other six who walked free from Texas' death row:
Death Isn't Fair
One of four Death Row inmates pardoned by Gov. George Ryan before he
office in January, Madison Hobley has filed a federal lawsuit accusing
police of torturing and framing him for setting a 1987 fire that killed
people, including his wife and infant son. They were average people,
leading average lives. They had never been in trouble
with the law. Accidental fires took the lives of their loved ones. Then
were charged with arson and murder.
PA State Police have
a unique track record for charging accidental fires
as arson. They have taken this to a new low, using pizza and
to get a 7-year-old boy to confess to setting a fatal fire at a
home that occurred when the child was miles away. The child is
to be prosecuted, even as a juvenile. Instead, the authorities
have put him in a treatment facility for mentally disturbed kids -- go
come out twisted.
"sheer heft of the truly damaging and irrelevant conduct" of Asst.
U.S. Attorney James D. Clancy led to Darrick Moore's conviction for
in federal court in Pennsylvania.
Now the 3rd Circuit has ruled that Clancy's closing speech was not only
prejudicial, but that it capped a trial studded from beginning to end
unfairly prejudicial evidence relating to alleged prior bad acts by
When Henrico Co., VA
authorities charged Charles with torching the Poplar
Springs Baptist Church in Varina, the media was told,
"Some individuals reported that he made some statements about the
or religion in general." But Charles' alibi was ironclad, and his
had previously been convicted of filing false police reports.
Weldon Wayne Carr will not be retried for murder
and arson in the death of his wife. His conviction
was originally overturned in 1997, when the Georgia Supreme Court cited
unreliability of evidence that a trained dog found a fire accelerant at
scene. The Court also rebuked
then-prosecutor Nancy Grace -- now host of Court TV's "Closing
-- of engaging in "inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct in
course of the trial."Retrial Denied
the innocent people charged with arson are as fortunate as Sonia,
Charles and Paul, who have been exonerated. (Dennis will get a new
his exoneration is no "sure thing.") They remain in prison~even Death
fires that were either accidental in origin or which they clearly could
investigators, state fire marshals and agents from the U.S. Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives all conduct arson probes.
some cases, investigations are a joint effort.
There is also an increasing trend in which law enforcement relies on
collected by investigators hired by insurance companies.
Some states, including Pennsylvania, have laws that require insurance
to share findings with police. Pennsylvania goes a step further and
payment from the insurance industry to fund arson investigations.
Clear Conflict of Interest
fire damaged Oswald and Violet Carroll's Norwalk, Conn. home, Allstate
denied Oswald's claim for $26,468 personal property claim. And when
sued to force Allstate to pay his claim, the insurer brought a
accusing Oswald of arson. But a federal court jury didn't buy the arson
and slapped the "good hands" with a
days after a fire broke out at Woodgrains Furniture in Albert Lea, MN,
investigator removed an extension cord from the scene. The female
of the cord was suspected to have caused the fire, but it disappeared.
owner Bryan Purdie was charged with arson and -- guess what --
fraud. But it was the insurance company that perpetrated the
and after an exhaustive 26-month battle, the
Arson Case has been Dismissed
Released Reports from The Arson Resarch Project
Measuring the Impact of Cognitive
Bias in Fire Examinationshighlights the results of independent
research conducted by The Arson Research Project, which confirms the
influence of expectation bias in fire scene examination.
Moreover, the research reveals that public sector fire investigators
who act as both forensic scientist and criminal detective are more
likely to arrive at unreliable conclusions and to show greater
confidence in those conclusions than their private sector colleagues.
a companion report,Case Study Review of Cognitive Bias
in Fire Investigation, The Arson Research Project reviews three
arson cases where the conclusions of the fire investigators were
strongly influenced by cognitive biases. The cases ofGeorge Souliotes,Amanda GutweilerandSusan Lukjanare carefully examined,
exposing the subtle yet powerful impact of expectation bias,
confirmation bias, selective re-examination and role bias.
National Academy of Science (NAS) report,Strengthening
Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, strongly
recommends that forensic examinations be completely independent of law
enforcement and warns that cognitive bias tends to undermine many
otherwise objective forensic examinations. While many crime labs
and forensic scientists across the nation acted on the NAS recommendations,
public sector fire investigations have largely moved in the other
many - if not most - Fire Department “origin and cause” investigators
are both forensic fire examiners and criminal investigators on the same
case. Numerous jurisdictions have formed teams made up of fire
department origin and cause investigators with police detectives
specializing in arson investigation in an Arson Task Force model.
This is especially problematic as it tends to reinforce the overlap of
the two vocations rather than separate them. This mixing of roles
is unprecedented in the forensic sciences and a cause for grave
January, 2013 The Arson Research Project will kick off a national
campaign to separate forensic fire examination from criminal
investigation. We hope you will join us in supporting public
policy to move towards the NAS recommendation of
independence in forensic science. By separating forensic fire
examination from criminal investigation, fire origin and cause
investigation can take its place among other serious forensic
disciplines that serve to inform the legal system with objective and
reliable conclusions – conclusions based on evidence, not bias.
of Public Adjustors USA, Inc. says, "Because the [fire investigation]
is wrong so many times and has failed to adequately police itself, more
and more people have been raising the argument that fire investigation
but a 'junk science' or some kind of voodoo." Tim exposes the claims
as "scientific evidence" that are actually
Arson Myths .
the difference between state arson investigators or fire marshals and
company investigators? What kind of training does each have, and how do
roles overlap? Dr. Gerald Hurst answers
FAQs about Fire Investigators .
fire investigators who should know better perpetuate arson myths in
cases. That's how they charged Paul Camiolo with capital murder
arson for a tragic accidental fire. Compare them with the defense
reports. Download and read
Camiolo Case Experts' Reports and Depositions .