News 06.04.12

Illinois Man Convicted on Bad Arson Analysis Is Freed

After almost 25 years in prison and years of legal advocacy by the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago School of Law, James Kluppelberg was released on May 31. Kluppelberg was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for a 1984 Chicago fire that killed six tenants and destroyed the building. His alleged confession was eventually ordered suppressed after evidence was presented indicating police brutality.


Forensic Science Examiner Christine Funk discussed the problems with the forensic testimony on

Mr. Kluppelberg’s conviction appears to be the result of a perfect (and perfectly predictable) storm, a combination of a coerced “confession,” snitch testimony from a man who later admitted he “lied because he was facing his own criminal charges,” and “science” that can most gently be described as inaccurate. Francis Burns, a former Chicago Fire Department official, had visited the fire scene as a training exercise. He took no notes, no photos, and filed no report, yet testified at trial in 1990 that the burn patterns indicated it was, indeed, arson.

With higher standards for arson science, come questions about the scientific validity of old arson convictions. Several states have passed resolutions urging the review of questionable arson convictions, including Arizona, Nebraska and Oklahoma.



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