Testimony of the Prosecution's "Arson Expert"

The following are excerpts from the transcript of a preliminary hearing that took place in 2003 in the case of Georgia v. Beverly Jean Long, forwarded by John Lentini, CFI, of ATS Labs. The witness,
Maj. Michael Overbey, chief investigator for the Butts County, Georgia sheriff's office, observed a body in a flashed over compartment. The medical examiner determined that smoke inhalation was the cause of death. The defendant stated the victim, her husband James, was filling a kerosene heater at the time of the incident. The opinion of Maj. Overbey could send a person to prison for life.

Q: What did you see on the floor around this body?

A: A fresh crack, very severe crack associated with this type of scene. It’s typically associated directly underneath that of a body.
Q: And this crack is located directly underneath the body?

A: Yes, sir. It’s referred to as a “spaulding crack.”

Q: “Spaulding crack.” what is the cause of a “spaulding crack” such as this?

A: It’s the generation of heat that’s held underneath a body after it’s been subjected to a flammable liquid and ignited. The liquid pulls toward the back and it holds the heat down like making a seal and it starts to evaporate because of the heat, the water density in the concrete, and that’s what causes the crack.

Q: Could you tell whether that crack existed prior to this fire? Is there anything in the crack that would indicate it had been there a while?

A: No, there was not. There was no—it was fresh powder. Even when the body was moved there was nothing that suggested that it was there before. It has the characteristics of a “spaulding pattern” associated with an arson/homicide….

A: You could see an outline of the victim.

Q: And what made up this outline of the victim?

A: A pattern that’s typically associated with that of a flammable liquid of petroleum products, what we refer to as pour patterns.

Q: What would be your conclusion then, that you in your investigation reached and would be the opinion you had of what happened here from having seen the body and these pour pattern around the body?

A: My opinion is that he was down on his back and someone poured him with a petroleum product at least twice…..We found patterns that were commonly found in arson/homicide that could only have been left by a petroleum flammable product.

Q: And you said it had been poured at least twice. What is your basis of saying that?

A: A body just doesn’t burn that quick. It’s hard to burn a body. A body that is not repeatedly doused will put itself out. I mean, we’re made up of liquid. You know, the majority of us are made up of water and we self-extinguish.

Q: So is what you’re saying is that the body had to have been poured, lit, and then re-poured in order to have had the extent of damage that you observed?

A: That’s correct.

Q: Do you know what “pugilistic” means?

A: I know what the term means in relation to arson.

Q: What does it mean?

A:  It means that you draw back up into a fetal position. It’s the act or the need to draw up into the fetal position to try to get as small as you can to get away from the fire. You’re not going to make yourself bigger to get to the fire sooner, you’re going to make yourself smaller.

"Spaulding crack":  Apparently this expert is referring to concrete spalling.  The theory that concrete spalling is an indicator of arson was debunked long ago because concrete spalling can occur in set and accidental fires, and is equally likely to not occur in either.

"Pour patterns".  This normally refers to patterns in which liquid accelerants are poured in deliberately set fires, although "run patterns" from melted foam rubber and similar substances are often mistaken for "pour patterns".  In this instance, the expert misunderstands and misuses the term entirely.

"Self-extinguishing human bodies".  This expert needs to visit the burn unit of a hospital.  Presumably he sees no need to "stop, drop and roll".

"Pugilistic".  The term "pugilistic" describes the position of the limbs and head when a body has been severely burned.  The head pulls back, the legs bend and the arms come up in the position assumed by boxers (pugilists).  It is exactly the opposite of the fetal position.

UPDATE:  Beverly Jean Long was acquitted of the charges of murder and arson, which had been based on Maj. Overbey's "expert" opinions.

Junk Science

Truth in Justice