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Defense Lawyers Cite New Arson Research to Challenge Convictions

Posted Feb 1, 2012 10:07 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Defense lawyers armed with new research about arson fires are challenging convictions, including that of an Ohio death-row inmate.

Lawyers for Michael Webb say he was convicted based on arson science that is no longer believed to be valid, the Associated Press reports. They argue that the 1990 fire that killed his 3-year-old son did not necessarily begin where Webb was standing. Instead, they say, the fire could have started anywhere on the home’s main floor—evidence that would support a claim by Webb’s daughter that she saw a "man in red” in the house before the fire started.

Webb's case goes before the Ohio Parole Board today. Prosecutors have claimed Webb started the fire to kill his family, collect insurance and start a new life with his mistress.

Innocence Projects founded to exonerate inmates through DNA testing have begun accepting arson cases, the AP story says. Experts say research is challenging assumptions about how fires spread and what kind of evidence signals arson. One example: Experts used to conclude that hot-burning fires were the result of arson. New research, however, finds no correlation. Another example: A V-shaped pattern on the wall was once thought to be proof of arson. It’s now thought to indicate only where the fire started.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Defense Lawyer Says Executed Client Was Guilty in Texas Arson”

ABAJournal.com: “Expert Hits Arson Finding in Case that Led to Defendant’s Execution”

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