innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, May 08, 2006

Arson Re-Examined

This Associate Press Article originally ran on CNN:
(AP) -- We hear it after a smoky blaze that destroys a house, or an all-night warehouse inferno: The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Now those investigations themselves are getting a hard look, including the case of a Texas man executed two years ago for a house fire that killed his three little girls. Fire experts say he was wrongfully convicted because junk science was accepted as expert testimony.

The implications go far beyond Texas. More than 5,000 people are imprisoned nationwide for arson, and at least some are likely to have been wrongfully convicted, said five experts who analyzed testimony in the Texas case.

The experts included veteran arson investigators and people with backgrounds in science and engineering who have taught other investigators.

"It's an unspeakable error and people don't want to admit they made that error," said John Lentini, one of the arson experts. "It means you might've sent someone to prison based on bad science. It means you might've caused a family to lose their life savings, based on bad science."

Lentini and his colleagues concluded that bad science was at the heart of the testimony that led to Cameron Todd Willingham's conviction for a 1991 fire in Corsicana, Texas. Willingham maintained his innocence up to his execution in 2004.

The expert panel, along with The Innocence Project, a New York-based group that seeks to uncover wrongful convictions, presented their study on Tuesday to a special Texas commission set up to examine forensic misconduct.

For the whole story, click here.

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