Friday, April 5, 2013

Louis Taylor; Cameron Todd Willingham; How the changing forensic science of arson Is freeing innocent convicts; Popular Science;

STORY: "The changing forensic science of arson is freeing innocent convicts: Modern investigations are finding no evidence for arson in old cases," by Francie Diep, published by PopSci on April 3, 2013. (Thanks to Justin J. McShane  for drawing our attention to the CBS news video  linked below and other important links on his informative blog "The truth about forensic science.")

GIST: "The science of proving arson has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, and Taylor's case isn't the only one to show how previous practices—including outdated practices that continued into recent decades—might have sent innocent people to tragic sentences........ So what was the science of fire before and what's it like now? The New Yorker's reporting on a case that ended in 2004 explained that what were traditionally considered marks of arson actually show up in accidental fires. Things like burn patterns near the floor, V-shaped marks on walls, and glass windows cracked in dense patterns were once considered certain signs of the use of some kind of lighter fluid to induce burning. In 1990, an experiment done in an abandoned house showed that a fire set on a couch without any accelerating fluid left the same marks. Another study showed that nearly all so-called fire experts tested didn't correctly identify where a test fire started. The identification of arson was once considered more of an "art" than a science. Arson investigators required little training for their jobs and resisted new evidence in their field, the New Yorker reported. In Taylor's case, the Arizona Justice Project asked modern fire investigator John Lantini to look through the evidence that Taylor's original prosecutors had compiled. Lantini found that it was impossible to determine how the hotel fire started, so there was no basis for an arson charge. County Prosecutor Barbara LaWall also asked for a review of the evidence from the Tuscan Fire Department. The department came to the same conclusion, CBS' 60 Minutes reported. LaWall told the show that her prosecution would continue based on the idea that arson could not be ruled out. In 2010, fire expert Gerald Hurst talked with PBS' Frontline about arson science and the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who received the death sentence in 2004. It can be difficult to prove arson in a case, Hurst said. It is still fair to try to convince a jury without scientific evidence of arson, he added. A prosecutor could use evidence that the accused was motivated to kill the people who died in the fire, for example. However, investigators need to recognize when they just can't tell, which can often happen, Lantini told 60 Minutes."
The entire article can be found at:

See 60 minutes and Arizona's Pioneer Hotel fire at:


I have added a search box for content in this blog which now encompasses several thousand posts. The search box is located  near the bottom of the screen just above the list of links. I am confident that this powerful search tool provided by "Blogger" will help our readers and myself get more out of the site. 

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:

Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.