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 establish that he was innocent of arson and murder and that his original defense counsel was ineffective. Judge Hamilton dissented arguing that the state did not present enough evidence to demonstrate that Bradford set the fire that killed his ex-lover. Judge Hamilton further stated that defense counsel’s failure to retain an expert capable of determining the duration of the fire constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.

The facts of the incident are as follows: the victim, Tamara Lohr, was involved in an extramarital affair with Bradford. Bradford, who had just finished his nightshift, discovered the fire at Lohr’s residence. A witness who drove by Lohr’s home five minutes before Bradford’s discovery did not see a fire. Bradford was seen on a bank camera a few blocks from the home at 6:35 a.m., 65 seconds prior to reporting the fire and eight minutes prior to the fire being extinguished.

Based on the aforementioned timeline, to support Bradford’s guilt, the maximum time that the fire could have burned was eight minutes. Accordingly, the state’s case against Bradford hinged on whether there was sufficient time for him to start the fire before reporting it. The defense’s expert, Barker Davie, testified that the fire burned for 15 minutes, seemingly eliminating the possibility that Bradford set the fire. Significantly, however, Davie could not offer an opinion as to the fire’s earliest possible starting time. As such, Davie could not conclusively eliminate Bradford as a suspect and he was ultimately convicted.

On appeal, Bradford presented a new expert, Douglas Carpenter. Carpenter testified that the fire burned for 30 minutes before it was extinguished. He based this opinion on an inspection of burned and unburned wood and materials and the level of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood of the decedent’s pet poodle.

The majority poked holes in Carpenter’s opinions and found that they were not reliable enough to exonerate Bradford. Further, the majority did not believe Bradford’s counsel’s retention of Davie was enough for a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel. In the dissent, Judge Hamilton criticized Bradford’s original defense attorney and agreed with Bradford that the failure to provide an expert that could opine as to the time the fire was burning, the critical issue in this case, supported a claim of ineffective counsel. “Given the state court’s conclusion that the analysis Carpenter provided was available at the time of the original trial, I would treat the failure to seek and find such critical expert evidence as ineffective assistance of counsel,” Hamilton wrote. “In the alternative, I would treat this case as appropriate for an actual innocence grant of habeas corpus,” in which Bradford is either released or retried.

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