A Pennsylvania man sent to death row based on questionable arson evidence is seeking a new hearing based on expert findings that the fire may have been accidental.
Daniel Dougherty was sentenced to death in 2000 for allegedly setting the blaze in that killed his children. Dougherty has always maintained his innocence and says he is a victim of flawed arson science.
Reviews of evidence in Dougherty’s case have turned up similarities to the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man who was convicted of murder in 1992 after his three young daughters died in a fire at his home. Willingham was executed in 2004 despite evidence available at the time that the science used to convict him was invalid.
According to CNN, two arson investigators who re-examined the evidence from Dougherty’s case reported that they didn’t find any conclusive indicators of arson. Dougherty’s original lawyer never introduced expert testimony in his 2000 trial and has since admitted to never seeking assistance from independent fire investigators.
“We have an innocent man on death row who has been languishing there, and there is absolutely no evidence that a crime occurred,” said his [new] attorney, David Fryman. “We’ve been trying our best to right that wrong.”
Across the country, people are convicted of arson based on outdated science that has been discredited for years. As a result of advancements in the field, lawyers and investigators are now questioning previous arson convictions.
Dougherty filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2006 and hopes the arson experts’ reports will help the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decide to hear his case. There is no execution date set.