New Technology Sets Aside 1988 Arson Double Murder Conviction

Richard Wright was convicted in 1988 of setting a 1986 house fire that killed two teenage girls and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Mr. Wright long maintained his innocence and his initial appeal, based on the credibility of witness who testified that Wright confessed to the crime, was denied in 1995.

Mr. Wright ultimately appealed to the New York State Supreme Court after his family hired an attorney who uncovered flaws with the origin and cause investigation conducted by arson investigators and subsequently filed a motion to overturn the conviction arguing that new scientific technology debunked the methods used. Specifically, Wright’s attorney argued that, during their investigation, despite being unable to find an accelerant, the arson investigators concluded that burn patterns indicated the presence of an accelerant. During an October 2, 2017 hearing, Mr. Wright’s attorney was prepared to call two expert witnesses to testify that, based on new technology, the burn patterns the arson investigators used to support their opinion cannot lead to the conclusion an accelerant was used to start the fire. The New York State Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Wright’s appeal and vacated his 1988 conviction.

Advances in fire science has resulted in the review of numerous arson cases and convictions being overturned. As science continues to improve, it is likely that this trend will continue.

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