Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wrongful arson convictions: Our first guest blog. Paul Bieber, Director of the "Arson Research Project" discusses his recently released report, "Anatomy of a Wrongful Arson Conviction."

COUNTDOWN: 16  days to Wrongful Conviction Day: (Thursday October 2, 2014);

POST:  The first guest blog published by the Charles Smith Blog in our seven year existence. Paul is Founder and Director of The Arson Research Project which is devoted to preventing  and remedying  wrongful arson science convictions. I asked him to give our readers some insight into the Project's recently published "Anatomy of a Wrongful Arson Prosecution." There have been a disturbing number of wrongful arson convictions based on flawed science and  faulty or exaggerated testimony by "expert" fire investigators in North America and possibly other countries. I am grateful to Paul for his contributions to this site - and for his battle against junk science and outdated science in arson investigations. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

CONTENT: "Since 1991 thirty men and women have been exonerated from wrongful arson convictions.  More than half of them were exonerated from life sentences or from death row.   In two-thirds of these cases, faulty or exaggerated testimony by expert fire investigators played a lead role in the original conviction.  In the case of one Texas inmate, this forensic error, built on bias and pseudoscience, led to his execution. About a year ago the Arson Research Project began to study those exonerations and several other arson cases where the original convictions were based on untested, outdated or unreliable forensic methods.  Our goal was to identify, examine and explain the common factors that lead to wrongful accusations and convictions for the crime of arson – the common errors and pitfalls of modern fire investigation. Our first report based on that study, Anatomy of a Wrongful Arson Conviction, is the first comprehensive review of U.S. arson exonerations and the first application of sentinel-event and root-cause analysis to the field of fire investigation.  The 27 cases in the report include 19 exonerations, 7 cases where charges were dropped or a jury returned a not-guilty verdict, and one case that resulted in an execution.  Together they represent well over 200 years of combined incarceration.  Even in the cases where the defendant was acquitted or the charges were dropped, the financial cost and emotional toll to the wrongfully accused were enormous."

See Paul Bieber's youtube video on wrongful arson convictions;


See also the Arson Research Project website: "The Arson Research Project examines a subject area that lies in the interface of law and science. The project’s director and advisory board bring decades of professional experience relevant to the project’s objectives while providing well-established contacts throughout the criminal justice and fire investigation communities. Paul Bieber is a certified fire and explosion investigator (CFEI) and has nine years of investigative experience with a concentration in fire cause and origin, death scene, and insurance fraud investigations, and an additional 15 years in fire suppression and emergency medical services as a firefighter and paramedic. He has been retained as an expert in numerous arson cases. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Excelsior College and a Master of Legal Studies with a concentration in forensic investigation and international studies from Monterey College of Law. He is a published author of legal articles concerning advances in arson research with a focus on the reliability of forensic methodologies, cognitive bias and the application of the scientific method in fire investigation."


 For background on Wrongful Conviction Day see the following link:
Interested participants may sign up by contacting Win Wahrer of The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted at: winwahrer@aidwyc.org.


Dear Reader. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog. We are following this case.
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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:


Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:
I look forward to hearing from readers at:


Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;