Michigan Arson Conviction Vacated After Five Years
After five years in prison for a 2009 arson conviction, a Michigan man walked out of the Cadillac courthouse a free man on Tuesday, reported
Victor Caminata was sharing a home with his then-girlfriend in Wexford County in March 2008 when a fire destroyed it. Although initially saying the cause of the fire was the chimney, fire investigators later claimed that char marks pointed to arson, and his girlfriend provided a possible motive when she said they were going to break up.
About a year ago, Director of the
Michigan Innocence Clinic
, Dave Moran, and his co-counsel filed a motion for relief based on the conclusion that the state’s arson experts had committed fundamental errors in violation of National Fire Protection Agency 921 (NFPA 921). Defense experts believe that the supposed signs of arson were spurious and that the original determination that an accidental chimney fire had burned down the house was correct. NFPA 921 adopts the scientific method for fire investigations and explicitly debunks the so-called “indicators” of arson that were routinely used by fire investigators for decades but are not rooted in science. It was first published in January 1992 and has been updated several times since then, but not all fire investigators use it routinely.
A Wexford County judge vacated Caminata’s conviction based on this evidence and ordered him released on personal recognizance bond. Although the Attorney General has 30 days to decide whether or not to pursue a retrial, Caminata is already spending time with his family. He was reunited with his three children and plans to live with his sister until he finds a place of his own.
“Nothing can make up for that lost time,” Caminata said. “All I can do is look to the future.”
In related news,
Northern California Innocence Project
client George Souliotes, whose conviction for arson murder was overturned in April, was also set to be released on Tuesday in Modesto, California, after 16 years in prison. Souliotes, who is 72 years old and in failing health, entered a plea of no-contest to involuntary manslaughter in order to be reunited with his family. As of this writing, his release has been temporarily delayed by state prison officials.
about the Souliotes case
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