Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Arson "science." Cameron Todd Willingham. Fire investigator John Lentini says, "Citizens who have been wrongly prosecuted for arson number in the dozens, if not in the hundreds," looks at "exactly what happened in the trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, and offers a remedy to the high error rate found in fire investigations, in a commentary published by the New York Times. (Must Must Read. HL);

COMMENTARY: "Arson cases show the need for better training in forensic sciences," by John Lentini, published by the New YorkTimes on March 30, 2015. John Lentini is a fire investigation consultant and author of "Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation.''

GIST: "Finding the origin of a fire is supposed to be a fire investigator’s core competency. Determining where a fire started, however, is a complicated task, and one that has a high error rate, unless the fire is extinguished in its earliest stages. The profession is just beginning to understand the effects that ventilation, or the lack thereof, can have on the fire damage. The problem becomes worse when the fanciful arson determinations of unqualified individuals are presented to courts. Prosecutors, judges and juries have no way of knowing just how weak some of the fire science is, and the problem is exacerbated by the way that trials proceed. The prosecutor leads off with motive and character assassination. By the time the jury hears the bad science, they already hate the defendant and just don't care that the allegedly scientific determination of origin and cause is invalid. That is exactly what happened in the trial of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for setting a fire that killed his three daughters based on confident, but wholly inaccurate testimony by fire investigators. None of the so-called arson indicators relied upon had any validity. The Willingham case owes its high profile to death penalty activists, but it is by no means the only miscarriage of justice that resulted from accidental fires being erroneously classified as intentional. Citizens who have been wrongly prosecuted for arson number in the dozens, if not in the hundreds. To remedy this situation we need a more highly educated applicant pool, which means we need to be willing to pay higher salaries to induce more qualified people to join the field. And courts need to be more skeptical about the ability of poorly educated investigators to correctly determine the origin and cause of the fire. When the cause of the fire is not obvious, courts should be willing to entertain reliability challenges, and to provide funds for defendants to retain independent experts."

The entire commentary can be found at:

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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:

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