Adam Gray: a case to watch

Adam Gray/forensic arson detection/AdSIn Adam Gray’s case we see the same flawed and overhauled technology that gave Cameron Todd Willingham a death sentence. Gray’s story has eerie similarities to Kenneth Richey’s case.  We are talking about forensic arson detection, of course.

From the Chicago Tribune: “Prosecutors in State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit concluded in recently filed court papers that Gray deserves a new trial because dramatic advancements in fire science have “partially invalidated” expert testimony that was crucial to Gray’s arson and double murder conviction in 1996.”

The old file was examined by experts John Lentini and Gerald Hurst. It sounds all too familiar: “At trial, prosecutors focused on two elements — the evidence that the fire had been intentionally set and a confession from Gray. Two fire investigators said they found alligator charring and deep burn patterns at the scene and concluded they were evidence of a hot fire set with an accelerant.”

Reviews of old arson cases show that many conclusions drawn then were simply wrong. The most important mistakes centered on:

  • puddle configurations
  • pour patterns
  • burn trailers and
  • V-shaped burning marks

At the Willingham trial, V-shaped burn marks were interpreted as THE sole indicator pointing us to the spot where the fire started (e.g. point of origin). Now we know that V-shaped burn marks occur repeatedly during flashover and do not exclusively tell us where the fire started.

Flashover happens when the radiant heat of the flames changes a fire in a room to a room on fire. Read it twice because there is a difference. Flashover can happen within minutes and WITHOUT a liquid accelerant. As forensic arson detection progressed we now know that ordinary pieces of furniture contain flammable materials such as upholstery

Judge Angela Petrone will decide in the next few weeks whether Adam Gray will get a new trial.

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