"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)

Arson or Accident?
The inability of arson investigators to recognize the difference 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 convictions.

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Click HERE for Arson Defense Resources.

Angela Garcia
Small wonder Cleveland police and prosecutors thought they could nail Eve Rudd with arson and murder after a fire claimed the lives of two of her children.  They had just done the same thing to Angela Garcia, who also lost two children in a tragic fire.  Angela went to prison, not based on evidence, but on junk and jailhouse snitches' lies. 

Secret Knowledge
Sonia Cacy's conviction for first-degree murder and arson in the death of her uncle in 1993 is one of the most infamous frame-ups in Texas history, just behind Cameron Todd Willingham.  Now the "secret knowledge" used by the Bexar County crime lab to support fabricated charges is disclosed in detail by someone who worked in that lab.

Adam Gray
Adam Gray was only 14 years old when Chicago detectives pressured him into confessing to setting a fire that killed two people.  He quickly recanted, but the confession coupled with since-discredited fire cause claims got him convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1996.  Fast forward to 2016.  Defense and prosecuting attorneys agree Adam was convicted on bogus scientific evidence and deserves a new trial.  Judge Angela Petrone says no, because the theories that debunked the junk science presented at trial had been published by then. 

William Haughey
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 Tendy, then running for Putnam County District Attorney against the DA who prosecuted him.  Mr. Tendy was elected and took a careful look at the evidence in the case.  On May 2, 2016, he asked the Court to vacate Mr. Haughey's conviction and, in spite of opposition by the New York Attorney General, Mr. Haughey was freed.

Zachary Handley
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 thrown out.

Claude Garrett
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 Detective 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.  This is 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.  After 36 years, James Hugney has been freed from prison. 

Andrew Babick
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, AZ Arson Squad Questionable Arrests
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.

UPDATE: July 25, 2014 - 3 Phoenix arson investigators put on paid leave.  Exclusive report from Wendy Halloran.


Robert Garner: Fighting for My Freedom

Lost Barrio Arson Case Dismissed
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.

Arson Science Questioned in 2 Virginia Cases
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 only 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 compelling evidence of his innocence, Maloney remains in prison for lack of legal representation.

Four years ago, Victor Caminata of Cadillac, Michigan was 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 chimney.

Greg Kinsela
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
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."

David Gavitt
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 trial 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. 

Trial by Fire
NBC News examines the junk science that put David Gavitt behind bars for 26 years, for crimes that never happened.

James Kluppelberg
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.

Daniel Dougherty
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 courtroom. 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 trial. 

Texas' debate over arson science is reignited
A 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.

Discover Magazine Special Report

Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials?

Susan Lukjan
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
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 -- ever.

UPDATE: 12/18/12 -- The Court granted a motion filed by State prosecutors to dismiss the charges against Kristine Bunch.

Wisconsin State Journal Special Report:  Burning Questions
by Dee J. Hall
After Joey Awe’s Marquette County bar burned down in 2006, authorities immediately suspected the gregarious, disabled Gulf War veteran of arson.

Greg Brown, Jr.
Greg Brown Jr., 33, of Pittsburgh, PA who has been in state prison since 1997, 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.

UPDATE:  March 13, 2014:  Greg Brown granted new trial.

from the Chicago Tribune
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," Willingham said angrily. "I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do."  Four fire cause and origin experts -- Gerald Hurst, John Lentini, 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 who has investigated scores of fires in his career. "It was just a fire."

UPDATE - May 2, 2006
(In pdf format - Includes Report and Supporting Documentation)

UPDATE - August 15, 2008
Texas Panel to Probe Findings That Led to Willingham's Execution

UPDATE - September 14, 2010
Reconstituted Texas Panel Set to Whitewash Willingham Execution

UPDATE - January 8, 2011
Panel Finally Hears Arson Experts

UPDATE - April 15, 2011
Panel Recommends Revisiting Old Arson Cases

UPDATE - September 9, 2011
Panel Not Allowed to Issue Opinion on Willingham, But Old Arson Cases May Be Reviewed


An Exclusive Excerpt from "Incendiary"

by Evan Smith, The Texas Tribune
December 29, 2010

An exclusive excerpt from "Incendiary," a forthcoming documentary about the Cameron Todd Willingham case.

Man sentenced to life in prison will get to argue his innocence
A 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.

Toledo, Ohio Area Restaurateur Acquitted of Arson
Former restaurant 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 bankrupted him.)

Another Arson Conviction Challenged
In 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 under scrutiny.

UPDATE:  November 16, 2010 - 
US District Judge Nancy Gertner  has ordered a new trial for James Hebshie.  “Questionable 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 attorney, Jeanne M. Kempthorne, commented, “You could tell the prosecutors in this case that the science was wrong. They would not listen.’’  Rush to Judgment.

Victor Rosario -- Innocent of Arson

Notorious Lowell arson case cast in doubt

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.

Gerald Hurst, Ph.D.
A one-man arson innocence project

"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.

Mike Ledford:  Innocent in Prison

Curtis Severns has been in federal prison since 2006. 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 remains in federal prison in Beaumont for a crime he didn’t commit.

Rose Kate Roseborough
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 opinion. 

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. 

Mark Kirk, Wrongfully Convicted -- on Junk Science

KC Framed

If 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.

Burning 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. 

Burning 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 been dismissed.

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 Circumstance?

UPDATE - March 28, 2013 - New trial ordered in Ed Graf's 1986 arson/murder case.

"When there's a fatal fire and someone survives, the survivor will be charged with arson and murder."
 ~ Gerald Hurst, Ph.D.

The fire swept quickly through the red brick rowhouse. It 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.

(Includes Report and Supporting Documentation)

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 and produced 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.
Bruce Mason
Updated 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 Riverside.  No 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.

The 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 sentence.  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 behind.

Also see John Lentini's report regarding Mr. Lee's case, "A Calculated Arson," in pdf format.

UPDATE:  1/27/12 - Appeals court grants new look at Monroe County arson/murder case

UPDATE:  6/13/14 - Han Tak Lee wins new trial.  "Slow and painful has been man's progress from magic to law."  Click HERE to read full opinion.

In April 2002, a Rapides Parish, Louisiana grand jury 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."

An 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 children.  In interviews with the Charlotte Observer, John Lentini, a private fire investigator in Marietta, Ga., said a lit candle in the children's bedroom started the fire.  Lentini -- a national advocate of using research-based scientific 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.

Sandra 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.

Getting out of prison didn't free Jennifer Hall. Friends call and ask her to go out, but she mostly stays home. She takes 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 of starting a fire at Cass Medical Center in Harrisonville, where she worked as a respiratory therapist. But last year a judge threw out the verdict and wrote a ruling highly critical of Hall's first attorney. At a second trial, in February, a jury took three hours to decide the fire was caused by an electrical short in an old clock cord. By then Hall, now 24, had been paroled after serving one day short of 12 months.

Dale Chu's 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 testimony from state "arson experts", the lies of a paid-off snitch and a dummied-down jury.

Ken Richey

Colombus Grove, Ohio
Complete transcript of Frontline Scotland'sKilling Time profile of Kenny Richey's case!

Conviction Reversed
Ken Richey's Death Penalty and Conviction Tossed

The American Dream that Died in a Death Row Cell

Reversal Reversed
U.S. Supreme Court flips reversal, sends Richey's case back to 6th Circuit
Click HERE for Decision (pdf)

August 11, 2007
Court Orders New Trial for Kenny Richey
For 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 90 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.

Ernest Willis
More than 17 years after Ernest Willis went to death row for setting a house fire that consumed two sleeping 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 first inmate to walk free from Texas' death row in seven years.

Read more about Ernest's case and the other six who walked free from Texas' death row:  Death Isn't Fair

Madison Hobley

One of four Death Row inmates pardoned by Gov. George Ryan before he left office in January, Madison Hobley has filed a federal lawsuit accusing Chicago police of torturing and framing him for setting a 1987 fire that killed seven 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 they were charged with arson and murder.
Sonia Cacy Click for UPDATE
Terri Strickland
Sheila Bryan
Paul Camiolo
Eve Rudd
Paul and Karen Stanley
Dennis Counterman

Arson Myths Fuel Errors

* * *
Boy, 7, Tricked into Confessing to Arson
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 candy to get a 7-year-old boy to confess to setting a fatal fire at a neighbor's home that occurred when the child was miles away.  The child is too young to be prosecuted, even as a juvenile.  Instead, the authorities have put him in a treatment facility for mentally disturbed kids -- go in normal, come out twisted.

'Inflammatory' Closing
The "sheer heft of the truly damaging and irrelevant conduct" of Asst. U.S. Attorney James D. Clancy led to Darrick Moore's conviction for arson in federal court in Pennsylvania.  Now the 3rd Circuit has ruled that Clancy's closing speech was not only unfairly prejudicial, but that it capped a trial studded from beginning to end with unfairly prejudicial evidence relating to alleged prior bad acts by Moore.

 Charles R. Garten, III

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 church or religion in general."  But Charles' alibi was ironclad, and his accuser 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 the unreliability of evidence that a trained dog found a fire accelerant at the scene.  The Court also rebuked then-prosecutor Nancy Grace -- now host of Court TV's "Closing Arguments" -- of engaging in "inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct in the course of the trial." Retrial Denied

Few of the innocent people charged with arson are as fortunate as Sonia, Terri, Sheila, Charles and Paul, who have been exonerated. (Dennis will get a new trial; his exoneration is no "sure thing.") They remain in prison~even Death Row~for fires that were either accidental in origin or which they clearly could not have set.

Letitia Smallwood
Louis Taylor
Patrick Bradford

Louis Taylor Update

You won't believe the unadulterated garbage prosecutors put on as expert testimony in arson cases.  Unfortunately, judges and juries believe it.   The Prosecutions's Expert .

Insurance Companies ~ Police ~ Prosecutors
An Unholy Alliance

Local investigators, state fire marshals and agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives all conduct arson probes. In some cases, investigations are a joint effort.  There is also an increasing trend in which law enforcement relies on evidence collected by investigators hired by insurance companies.  Some states, including Pennsylvania, have laws that require insurance investigators to share findings with police. Pennsylvania goes a step further and accepts payment from the insurance industry to fund arson investigations.  Clear Conflict of Interest

When fire damaged Oswald and Violet Carroll's Norwalk, Conn. home, Allstate Insurance denied Oswald's claim for $26,468 personal property claim. And when Oswald sued to force Allstate to pay his claim, the insurer brought a counterclaim accusing Oswald of arson. But a federal court jury didn't buy the arson claim and slapped the "good hands" with a $500,000 Verdict

Two days after a fire broke out at Woodgrains Furniture in Albert Lea, MN, an insurance investigator removed an extension cord from the scene.  The female end of the cord was suspected to have caused the fire, but it disappeared.  Then owner Bryan Purdie was charged with arson and -- guess what -- insurance fraud.  But it was the insurance company that perpetrated the fraud, and after an exhaustive 26-month battle, the Arson Case has been Dismissed .

You're honest, law abiding, a straight-arrow citizen. Wrongful convictions happen to other people. Pat Frost thought so. Now she asks It Can't Happen to You ~ Or Can It?

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Arson Defense Resources

Arson Research Project

Prepared by:
Christopher L. Mealy, Matthew E. Benfer, and Daniel T. Gottuk

Newly Released Reports from The Arson Resarch Project

Measuring the Impact of Cognitive Bias in Fire Examinations highlights 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.  


In 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 of George Souliotes, Amanda Gutweiler and Susan Lukjan are carefully examined, exposing the subtle yet powerful impact of expectation bias, confirmation bias, selective re-examination and role bias.


The 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 direction.


Today, 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 concern.   


In 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.

Tim Zeak of Public Adjustors USA, Inc. says, "Because the [fire investigation] industry is wrong so many times and has failed to adequately police itself, more and more people have been raising the argument that fire investigation is nothing but a 'junk science' or some kind of voodoo." Tim exposes the claims presented as "scientific evidence" that are actually Arson Myths .

What's the difference between state arson investigators or fire marshals and insurance company investigators? What kind of training does each have, and how do their roles overlap? Dr. Gerald Hurst answers FAQs about Fire Investigators .

See how fire investigators who should know better perpetuate arson myths in real life cases.  That's how they charged Paul Camiolo with capital murder and arson for a tragic accidental fire.  Compare them with the defense experts' reports.  Download and read Camiolo Case Experts' Reports and Depositions .

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