Burning Injustice: Part One
Updated: April 25, 2008
Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates
Indianapolis - More than 2,000 fires were intentionally set in Indiana
last year. The state fire marshal's office says it cannot determine how
many of them were ruled as arson.
His darkest moment, he said, was his first day in
|One Indiana man has
a burning question: If your house caught
fire, could you prove you didn't commit arson? Before you answer,
you'll want to read about what 13 Investigates uncovered.
It's a case of burning injustice that is now sparking debate over how
state fire investigators are doing their jobs.
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.
"She [Jodi Gould] was screaming, hollering and pointing her finger
saying I was the one that set the fire," said Rob Montgomery as he
recounted the statements of his ex-girlfriend that night.
Montgomery is one of a growing number of arson suspects
All are facing time, even death sentences, for fires science says are
Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said there was good reason to
"He was seen by an eyewitness leaving the house in somewhat of a rush,"
Negangard told 13 Investigates. "There's no question in my mind
Rob Montgomery is guilty, however, as it sits now he is not," said
"He thought he was God, and he got away with it," Montgomery counters,
criticizing the prosecutor.
The ordeal began in 2000. Montgomery was separated from his wife,
and wanted his live-in girlfriend, Jodi Gould, to get out.
She left and went to a bar. Montgomery threw her clothes out on the
back porch. Hours later the house erupted in flames.
Gould told police Montgomery called and threatened to burn his own
house down. Montgomery denies the claim and no one else heard the
It was up to a state fire investigator to sort out the fire
"At first I said everything is going to be all right. It's just, it's
just a mistake, but as things progressed on it got worse," said
The investigator said two bedrooms were torched and that a burnt hole
in the floor meant just one thing: accelerants. It's a theory technical
fire experts now reject.
The state investigator also tossed out another potential culprit: a
Montgomery's wife Norma takes issue with the handling of the arson
investigation. "He walked in there, shoveled a couple of things
the door, picked up some soil samples and wrote up a report saying it
was arson," she said of State Fire Marshal Andy Long.
An arson determination was made despite 10
negative lab tests
analyzed by the state crime lab and a damaged lamp cord Gould admits
she caught in a vacuum cleaner the day of the fire.
"The lamp had signs of energized melting. And that means
lamp cord burned from the inside out," explained Rob Montgomery.
An electrical engineer hired by the insurance company could not rule it
out as a possible cause.
Montgomery's attorney assumed the prosecutor would call the electrical
engineer and a second insurance investigator as witnesses. He was
13 Investigates asked Montgomery to recall the moment when the three
guilty verdicts for arson, and fraud were read in court.
Through a well of tears, Montgomery said with a shaky voice, "I lost my
family that day. I didn't do this. And they're putting me in jail
it. It's happening."
Robin Montgomery's sentence: 12 years with six
suspended. The best he could hope for was three years served with good
A midnight fire in April 2000 sent flames belching from Robin
Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard
An arson determination was made despite 10 negative lab tests analyzed
by the state crime lab and a damaged lamp cord Gould admits she caught
in a vacuum cleaner the day of the fire.
"The first day, going in, the things that they make you do. That was
pretty hard on me. Things that I'm not going to talk about," he said
shaking his head in continued disbelief.
Fourteen months passed, and then came the call the Montgomery's prayed
for. In March 2004 the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Robin
Montgomery's conviction citing "ineffective assistance." The
Appeals Court also admonished the Ohio County Prosecutor for
questionable conduct, stating that he "gave rise to the ineffectiveness
"In this case, there was only circumstantial evidence of Montgomery's
guilt. Indeed, what became essentially a 'battle of experts,'
corroborating experty testimony would have been particularly powerful,
and in its absence, when available, substantially prejudicial."
Norma Montgomery summed it up in simple terms. "He did not get a
fair trial," she said.
Prosecutor Negangard has his own explanation. "They just felt
that there should have been other evidence presented to the jury to
make a fair decision," he told 13 Investigates. "I never foresaw
that me not calling these witnesses would cause such a hullabaloo," he
Robin Montgomery is free, but not in the clear. Negangard re-filed
charges. Now eight years after the blaze, a new trial is set for May
13 Investigates asked Negangard why he is still pursuing charges.
"Well, because quite frankly the real victims of this were the men of
the Rising Sun Volunteer Fire Department. They were called out to put
out a fire that should have never been set," he said.
This time around, Indiana's fire investigation standards will face
Montgomery now has a critically acclaimed scientist, Dr. Gerald
Hurst, backing him up. Hurst, a chemist, investigates arson cases
"You don't have any evidence of arson," warned Hurst. "What you've got
is this hocus pocus," he said, referring to the case against Rob