Cleveland, Ohio 
Mother Found Not Guilty Of Setting Fatal Fire
Woman Cleared On All Counts

POSTED: 5:08 p.m. EDT June 5, 2002

  CLEVELAND -- The future of Eve Rudd, the Cleveland mother accused of setting the fire that killed her two children, is now decided.

  NewsChannel 5's Debora Lee reported that Rudd was found not guilty on counts of aggravated arson and murder.

 The jury came back with a verdict late Wednesday afternoon after less than two hours of deliberations.

Eve Rudd with Michael, who was saved, 
and Eriel, who perished.

   Prosecutors claimed that Rudd set fire to a pile of clothing and shredded paper doused in cooking oil because her husband was cheating on her. Her children, Steven, 6, and Eriel, 4, died in the blaze. 

   "The evidence of arson is clear and unrefuted," said Julianne Weintraub, the assistant prosecutor. "She realizes, 'My sinks don't work, my gas is turned off. I'm here with three kids and he's doing what?' She just (couldn't) take it anymore."

  But it's a theory Rudd's attorneys called preposterous. They said there was no evidence that she set that fire or that it was even arson. In fact, they suggest a case could be made against Rudd's husband, who left the house just before the fire. 

  "Women, mothers don't kill their children or put their children at risk because a husband cheats," defense attorney Ed Wade said. "That doesn't happen."

  Crisco Theory

  According to prosecutors, Eve Rudd used a bottle of cooking oil to accelerate the fire that killed Steven, 6, and Eriel, 4, last summer in their Eddy Road home. 

  "The cooking oil was poured on top of the clothing, and the shredded paper and the paper was ignited, catching the clothing, which, in turn, got the cooking oil up to 540 degrees, where it became an ignitable liquid," Detective Michael Smith said.

  Investigators said that the fire started around the doorway of the bedroom where the children died. It was a fire so hot that it caused the mattress springs on the bed to collapse, officials said.

  Defense attorneys poked holes in the cooking-oil theory. 

  "If I took some Crisco, poured it on the floor and got some paper and lit it, you mean to tell me it's going to catch on fire?" the defense attorney said. 

  When asked whether the clothing was tested for cooking oil, the arson investigator answered that the Crisco had burned off. 

  Kenneth Gibson, a fire investigator from Texas hired by the defense testified that accidental causes were too quickly ruled out. 

  "I would have to classify this fire as undetermined, basically because even if you found flammable liquid, you have to eliminate all accidental causes before you could call this arson," he said.

  Gibson conducted his own experiment with Crisco that was shown on videotape in court. He poured oil onto a rug and found that, by itself, it was no accelerant. He determined that cooking oil is not flammable and has to be heated to at least 540 degrees before it can be dangerous. 

  In an aggressive cross-examination, prosecutors attacked the claim that the fire could have started accidentally, possibly by the children playing with matches or by an iron found on a nightstand.

  "I can't rule it out," Gibson said.

  Then, a chemist testified that local investigators did not go far enough before ruling out other possible causes. Gerald Hurst, who testified at his own expense, said the fire should have been classified as undetermined because of a lack of evidence.

  "(There were) so many burn patterns, you can't interpret them anymore," he said. "There were too many electrical pieces to try to guess whether it was started by an iron or a soldering gun or what have you."

  Judge Ralph McAllister said that there was no "purposeful intent" to kill the children. 

  Rudd's family said that they never doubted her innocence. 

  "The investigators were just doing their job," Rudd's father said. "We don't fault them. But they just didn't know (Eve)." 

  Rudd is expected to be released from prison sometime Wednesday evening. She's been there for the last nine months. 

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