Tag Archives: Arson

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Federal Judge Denies Motion to Bar Fire Investigators’ Opinions in Strict Liability Lawsuit For Adherence to NFPA 921 and Industry Standards

In Harris Caprock Communications, Inc. v. Trippe Manufacturing Co. d/b/a Tripp Lite d/b/a Tripp Lite Holdings, Inc. (No. 15-0130), a Texas federal judge denied a motion to exclude the opinions of two fire investigators’ regarding the origin and cause of a fire in a strict products liability case, as the methodology employed was approved both within the industry as well as under the National Fire Protection Association Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (NFPA 921). In March 2013, Harris CapRock Communications sustained a fire that…

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Sixth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Civil Rights Action Based Upon Wrongful Conviction in Arson/Murder Case

In 1986, David Gavitt was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of arson and felony murder stemming from a fire that took the life of his wife and two daughters. In 2012, the state court granted Gavitt’s unopposed motion for relief from judgment due to newly discovered evidence based on advancements in fire science. The judgment was vacated, charges dismissed, and Gavitt was released from jail. Gavitt later brought a civil rights action against numerous city and county entities, prosecutors, police…

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In a Split Decision, Seventh Circuit Affirms District Court’s Denial of Habeas Corpus in Arson/Murder Case

In 1993, Glenn Patrick Bradford, a then Evansville, Indiana police officer, was convicted of murder and arson and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Bradford filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, but the Southern District of Indiana denied review last November. In Bradford v. Brown, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14260, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Bradford’s request. In a factually rich opinion, Judge Posner, joined by Judge Kanne, found that Bradford failed to present sufficient evidence to…

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Cook County Prosecutors Agree Chicago Man Convicted of Arson in 1996 Should Get New Trial Due to Evolution in Fire Science

Two decades after Adam Gray was convicted of setting a fire that killed two people in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, Cook County prosecutors agree that he deserves a new trial because advancements in fire science have “partially invalidated” expert testimony crucial to his conviction. In Gray’s case, police and prosecutors alleged that in March of 1993 the then 14 year-old became angry with a girl who rejected him and retaliated by igniting an accelerant he poured on the back porch of the home where she…

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Fire Chief’s Testimony Ruled Admissible in Arson Case Despite Concession He’s Unqualified to Determine Cause of All Fires

A defendant sought to have his arson conviction overturned, arguing that the justice presiding at his trial committed a reversible error in permitting one of the state’s witnesses to give opinion testimony. In State v. Barnett (Case No. 1984 Me. LEXIS 784), the defendant claimed that a fire chief from the responding fire department should not have been permitted to testify that, while investigating the origin of a fire at the defendant’s home, he called in the state fire marshal’s office to assist because he…

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New Jersey Superior Court Rules the Nose is Not Enough for Arson Conviction

On July 11, 2016, the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed the conviction of an alleged arsonist, vacated her sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial. State v. Satoris, No. A-1079-13T1, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1605 (Super. Ct. App. Div. July 11, 2016). In 2013, defendant Cheryl Satoris was convicted of third-degree arson. She appealed the conviction, arguing that she was entitled to a new trial because the trial court erroneously permitted the state to introduce evidence concerning a canine’s detection…

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Advances in Fire Science Helps Overturn 1980 Arson and Murder Convictions

A New York Judge recently overturned the arson and felony murder convictions of three men accused of setting a February 7, 1980 fire in a three-story residential building that killed a woman and her five children. The three men were convicted after the building’s owner offered eyewitness testimony implicating them and a local fire marshal presented an analysis at trial that pointed to arson as the cause of the fire. Significantly, the fire marshal supported his fire cause opinion with evidence that the fire originated…

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Insurance Compnay Gets Burned For Unsupported Arson Allegation

A Superior Court Judge sent a costly message to Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company after it declined to pay a policyholder for losses suffered in a residential fire based on its own findings that the fire was intentionally set. The fire occurred on February 26, 2009, in Pomfret, Connecticut. Local fire officials determined that the fire was accidental and likely caused by faulty wiring. Travelers, however, claimed that its insured poured kerosene in the home and ignited it.

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