Fire Science Used to Challenge Arson Convictions

Authorities in Texas and in other states are beginning to re-examine cases in which defendants were sent to prison for setting fires based on expert testimony about burn patterns and charring that today is considered suspect, reports The Associated Press.

Nine years after Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for killing his three children in a fire -- a conviction questioned by many legal advocates and fire experts --the state fire marshal and the nonprofit Innocence Project of Texas are working together to review the evidence in fire investigations and identify cases in which convictions might have been questionable.

Representatives will meet next month to start reviewing the first six cases, including Graf's, who was convicted in 1988 of setting the deadly fire in the central Texas town of Hewitt.

It's a rare collaboration between state officials and criminal justice advocates who are usually at odds.

"We both have the same goals, to make sure that justice is served." said Chris Connealy, the state fire marshal.

The National Fire Protection Association issued its first set of fire investigation guidelines in 1992. Before then, fire investigators did not always use uniform procedures, Connealy said. Also, advances in scientific analysis have found other explanations for burn patterns once considered to be signs of arson.

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