Arson experts are questioning the science in two Virginia convictions, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Davey Reedy is on parole after serving 20 years for the 1987 arson deaths of his two children, and Michael Ledford is serving a 50-year sentence for the 1999 arson death of his one-year-old son. Although prosecutors remain firm on Reedy and Ledford’s guilt, critics believe faulty and outdated science is responsible for the convictions.
John Lentini, a fire science expert who reviewed evidence in the high-profile Cameron Todd Willingham case, said that many of the principles used in arson investigations during the 1980s and 1990s were based on inaccurate evidence at best and “witchcraft” at worst.
“When you can prove some other dude done it you’re in much better shape. With fires, it’s not ‘some other dude done it,’ it’s ‘nobody done it,’ and that’s very difficult to prove once you’re convicted,” said Lentini.
Ledford claims that he falsely confessed to starting the fire after investigators misled him to believe that he had failed a polygraph test. Authorities originally classified the cause of fire as undetermined but changed the finding to arson. Experts reviewing the case for the defense said the fire was not intentionally started and that photographs taken at the scene show compelling evidence of an electrical fire.
In Reedy’s case, the local fire department concluded the fire was set by pouring and igniting gasoline on the back porch and kitchen areas. A former federal prosecutor who is part of Reedy’s legal team asserts that the only evidence of arson were test results from the state forensics lab stating there was gasoline on Reedy’s shirt and the wood floor, and the fire marshal’s assertion of burn patterns. In 2006, Lentini examined the state’s chemical analysis and found the test results were inaccurate.
“Even by the standards used in 1987, this should have made the identification of gasoline in these two samples suspect,” Lentini wrote.