Arson, Innocence and More on Missed Deadlines
A California prisoner serving a life sentence for allegedly setting a fire that killed three people
will have a present evidence of his innocence
after a federal court ruled in his favor yesterday.
Former landlord George A. Souliotes was convicted of setting a 1997 fire that killed three of his tenants. The prosecution in the original case argued that he set the fire for insurance money to pay off his debts, but evidence developed since his conviction points to his innocence. A three-judge panel from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that Souliotes can appeal his conviction despite missed legal deadlines. Souliotes can argue that he could not have discovered the evidence of innocence before the deadline, the panel ruled.
Souliotes’ prosecution relied heavily on evidence that the fire was started with a flammable liquid and that its residues were found on Souliotes’ shoes. A scientist years later showed that the substance on the shoes was different from what was found at the fire. That evidence proves Souliotes is innocent, his lawyers argued. Arson cases like Souliotes’, in which questionable science played a role in the conviction, have been in the national spotlight as the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigates the science used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas.
Read more about Souliotes, Willingham and other questionable arson convictions here
Souliotes is a client of Santa Clara University’s Northern California Innocence Project, a member of
the Innocence Network
And we blogged yesterday on a similar legal deadline issue in the case of Bruce Lisker, who served nearly 25 years in prison for murder before he was cleared last year. Lisker could face reinstated charges based on
a separate 9th Circuit decision finding that there is no “actual innocence exception” to filing deadlines
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