News 09.08.10

Experts Question More Massachusetts Arson Convictions

Controversy over wrongful convictions based on flawed arson science has spread to Massachusetts, with several cases across the state called into doubt by leading arson scientists.

In one such case, arson expert John Lentini told the Boston Globe that a 2006 conviction was based on methods that had been outdated for years. Lentini is one of the experts who found that

Cameron Todd Willingham

was executed in Texas in 2004 based on faulty evidence. Willingham’s case has sparked a national debate over flawed arson science, and the Innocence Project has called on states to review convictions based on outdated arson investigations.

The first set of arson standards was published in 1991 by the National Fire Protection Association but wasn’t widely acknowledged until a decade later.

A Boston Globe investigation published today

shows that after new arson investigation standards came into use, the number of structure fires ruled arson fell by 70 percent while the total number of fires remained constant. Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, told the Globe that states have an ethical obligation to examine convictions that took place before the adoption of the national investigative standards.

But Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan disagrees and has no intention of reviewing old cases, saying the decline in arson findings shows that arson has been prevented in the state.

“It sends a strong message: Massachusetts is not the place you want to engage in a crime of arson,’’ he said last month in an interview. “We’re always open for ways to improve, but I think we really set the benchmark for the way fire investigations should and can be conducted.’’

Recently, Arizona, Nebraska and Oklahoma passed

resolutions

urging the review of questionable arson convictions, but no such legislation has been filed in Massachusetts.



Read today’s Globe article here

.

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