Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Kristine Bunch: Indiana: Arson/murder; Major Development; Her malicious prosecution law suit against a federal forensic chemist who fabricated his findings - leading to a convictions for murdering her 3-year-old son and a 60 year sentence has been allowed to proceed in spite of a previous court order throwing out her case..."After a fire destroyed her home and claimed the life of her 3-year-old son in June 1995, investigators with the Indiana Fire Marshal’s office decided Kristine Bunch had intentionally set the blaze. But when samples from Bunch’s home were sent to William Kinard, a federal forensic chemist with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he determined no accelerants were present in the living room and boy’s bedroom, where the fire began. According to Bunch, the investigators told Kinard they were not happy with the results of his report, so he agreed to fabricate findings and report that accelerants were found in the two central locations. Bunch was subsequently convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 60 years."


STORY: "7th Circuit allows malicious prosecution case to proceed," by reporter Olivia Covington, published by The Indiana Lawyer on January 30, 2018.

GIST: "A malicious prosecution case brought by a woman wrongly convicted of murdering her son will continue in district court after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the grant of summary judgment to the United States government. After a fire destroyed her home and claimed the life of her 3-year-old son in June 1995, investigators with the Indiana Fire Marshal’s office decided Kristine Bunch had intentionally set the blaze. But when samples from Bunch’s home were sent to William Kinard, a federal forensic chemist with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he determined no accelerants were present in the living room and boy’s bedroom, where the fire began. According to Bunch, the investigators told Kinard they were not happy with the results of his report, so he agreed to fabricate findings and report that accelerants were found in the two central locations. Bunch was subsequently convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 60 years. But when Kinard’s true findings came to light during post-conviction relief proceedings in 2006, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed her conviction. In addition to the discovery of the fabricated findings, the court found independent evidence to justify post-conviction relief. Bunch then brought suit against the United States as Kinard’s employer under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Indiana Southern District Court, however, found the intentional-tort exception to the general waiver of immunity in the FTCA applied and, thus, granted summary judgment to the government. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment in Kristine Bunch v. United States of America, 16-3775. Chief Judge Diane Wood, writing for the unanimous appellate panel.........“Bunch put forward evidence that Kinard’s job…included the identification of relevant evidence for colleagues during crime-scene investigations,” Wood wrote. “Undoubtedly there are many employees of ATF for whom the same cannot be said. But forensic chemists, according to the summary-judgment record before us, do play at least this active a role.”“Perhaps this account can be controverted at trial,” the chief judge continued. “For now, however, Bunch did enough to defeat summary judgment in favor of the United States, given that the burden of proof rested with the government.”"

The entire story can be found at:


Read story  on recently published book on the Bunch case at the link below: "The story of a former Decatur County woman jailed for nearly two decades in connection with the home fire that killed her young son is featured in the recently-published third edition of a true crime anthology. Kristine Bunch’s saga to overturn her 1996 arson and murder conviction is detailed in Andrew E. Stoner’s Notorious 92, a new book that delves into “the most infamous murders from each of Indiana’s 92 counties.” Locally, there are perhaps few similar cases that garnered as much attention as that of Bunch’s. After a fire destroyed her Lake McCoy trailer home and killed her 3-year-old son, Tony, in June 1995, Bunch was arrested and charged with murder in connection with the boy’s death. The prosecution built its case on evidence from fire investigators who claimed accelerants were used to start to the blaze, and the presence of such materials indicated the fire had been set intentionally. The state also argued that Bunch provided inconsistent statements after the blaze and that an item had been used to obstruct the child’s possible escape. Bunch was found guilty and was sent to prison for 50 years on the murder charge and 30 years on the arson count. She was 22-years-old and pregnant with her second child, a boy she later named Trenton. Bunch steadfastly proclaimed her innocence throughout her incarceration. While behind bars, she worked to clear her name and win her freedom with the help of attorneys from Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions who argued the state had withheld evidence from defense attorneys that might have helped Bunch. They also claimed, among other things, that advances in fire investigation techniques since the 1995 tragedy warranted a new trial. The effort was finally successful in August 2012 when Bunch was released on bond following a reversal of her conviction by the Indiana Court of Appeals that March. The decision granted her the right to a new trial and was upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court. The prosecution in 2012 sought again to try Bunch on murder and arson charges following her release, but the state ultimately dropped the case that December. “I have always wanted to rewrite the story of Kristine Bunch,” Stoner said in a news release announcing the third edition of Notorious 92 earlier this month. “Her case is one of two included in the original text where convictions were overturned, but her story in particular was one of a dramatic and determined effort to find justice.” According to a press release, Stoner’s book also includes the final chapter in former Indiana State Police Trooper David Camm’s murder case, which saw him acquitted of murdering his wife and their two young children in 2000. The case was heard in Floyd County and reached its conclusion in 2013.
The book is available in paperback and digital form and is published by Cardinal Publishers Group."

Read National Registry of Exonerations entry by Rob Warden  at the link below: "Kristine Bunch, a client of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, languished behind bars for more than 17 years after she was arrested and charged with setting a fire that claimed the life of her three-year-old son, Anthony, on June 30, 1995, in a trailer home they shared in Decatur County, Indiana. Shortly after the fire, Brian Frank, a state arson investigator, concluded that it had started in two places and that a liquid accelerant, such as kerosene or charcoal lighter fluid, had been used to start it at both locations. Six days later, based largely on Frank’s findings, Bunch was charged with arson and felony murder. At her trial, which opened on February 26, 1996, Frank told the Decatur County Circuit Court jury: “There were two separate fires. One was in the south bedroom, along the south wall. That was caused by the liquid accelerant being present. The second fire originated at the doorway, the area of the doorway of the south bedroom into the living room. And there was a liquid accelerant poured across the floor of the living room that went to the front door of the mobile home.” Frank’s testimony regarding the accelerant was corroborated by William Kinard, a forensic analyst with U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), who testified that he had identified “a heavy petroleum distillate” in flooring samples taken from both the living room where the fire was believed to have started and from the bedroom in which Anthony died. Tom Hulse, an independent arson investigator, testified for the defense that the cause of the fire should have been “classified as undetermined” because there was “a probability” that it had been accidental. On March 4, 1996, the jury found Bunch, then 22 and pregnant, guilty of murder and arson. The following April 1, Decatur County Circuit Court Judge John A. Westhafer sentenced her to concurrent prison terms of 60 years for murder and 50 years for arson. On June 9, 1998, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the murder conviction — citing the presence of a heavy petroleum distillate in several locations — but vacated the arson conviction on double jeopardy grounds. Bunch’s family retained an Indianapolis attorney, Hilary Bowe Ricks, who filed a petition for post-conviction relief with Westhafer in 2006. A few months later, Betsy Marks, a supporter of Bunch’s, wrote the Center on Wrongful Convictions requesting assistance. Dan Tran, a CWC volunteer from Suffolk University Law School, read Betsy’s letter, saw immediately that Bunch’s innocence claim might have merit, and referred the request to CWC staff attorney Jane Raley. After discussing the case with Hilary Ricks and reading the trial transcript, Raley approached three fire forensic experts — Jamie McAllister, John DeHaan, and John Malooly — who concurred in the view that the arson testimony presented by the prosecution at Bunch’s trial in all likelihood had been wrong. Raley and CWC staff counsel Karen Daniel agreed to join Ricks in representing Bunch. One of the first things they did was subpoena ATF files on the original investigation. In response, the ATF surrendered previously undisclosed documents showing that — contrary to the trial testimony of William Kinard, the ATF analyst — no heavy petroleum distillate had been found in the bedroom. No HPD, as it was known in ATF shorthand, was found anywhere in the trailer.  Kerosene had been found only in the living room, where there was an innocent explanation for its presence: The family had used a kerosene heater in the living room during winter months, and when filling it sometimes spilled kerosene on the floor. The critical sample in Tony’s bedroom was completely negative. Because Kinard’s trial testimony that a liquid accelerant had been found in both the bedroom and living room left an inescapable impression that the fire had been set, the ATF documents were highly exculpatory. Yet they had been withheld from Bunch’s trial counsel in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland requiring prosecutors to turn over exculpatory materials to defense lawyers prior to trial. In 2008, Raley, Daniel, and Ricks filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief, attaching affidavits from McAllister, DeHaan, Malooly, and Richard Hansen, an electrical engineer, in support of Bunch’s claim of innocence. The petition argued that she was entitled to a new trial because developments in fire science since her conviction constituted new evidence of her innocence and because her rights had been violated by the withholding of the ATF documents. After Westhafer agreed to hold an evidentiary hearing, Ronald S. Safer, managing partner of the Chicago law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP and a member of the CWC Advisory Board, joined Bunch’s legal team, along with Kelly M. Warner, also of Schiff Hardin. After the evidentiary hearing in October 2009, Westhafer took the case under advisement for eight months before denying relief on June 8, 2010. “While [Bunch] had new resources available to her at the post-conviction hearing, new experts do not create new evidence,” he wrote. “The issues raised and the conclusions reached — while packaged differently — remain basically the same as they were at trial in 1996.” He added that he did not believe the ATF documents would have changed the outcome of the trial. The defense appealed, and Jon Laramore of Faegre Bake Daniels LLP, a leading Indianapolis law firm, joined the legal team. Safer argued the case before a three-member panel of the Court of Appeals of Indiana on July 13, 2011. Eight months later, on March 21, 2012, the court reversed the conviction, holding two-to-one that Bunch was entitled to a new trial both because the evolving fire science met the legal criteria for new evidence and because the undisclosed ATF evidence “directly contradict[ed] Kinard’s trial testimony supporting fires originating in two places.” On August 8, 2012, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously declined to disturb the Court of Appeals decision. Bunch, who had earned undergraduate degrees in English and anthropology from Ball State University in prison, was released on her own recognizance 24 days later — 17 years, one month, and 16 days after her wrongful arrest. She walked out of the Decatur County Jail, where she had been sent to await retrial, and into the arms of her family who had steadfastly supported her throughout her ordeal. Eight days before Christmas 2012, the prosecution dropped the charges. Bunch later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit which was pending as of October 2015."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. 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: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog."