Sunday, August 17, 2014

Han Tak Lee: Pennsylvania; Arson "science" case: A judge has vacated his conviction and life term in a fatal 1989 fire (after he has served 24 years behind bars) because of out-dated arson "science." The Inquirer reports "widening discussion within the justice system nationally about what to do with what could be hundreds of old arson cases that relied on now-discarded beliefs."

STORY: "Judge vacates conviction, life term in fatal 1989 fire," by reporter Emilie Lounsberry published by the Inquirer on August 10,  2014.

GIST:   "In a major victory for a man who has served 24 years of a life sentence for setting the 1989 fire that killed his daughter at a Pocono Mountains religious retreat, a federal judge threw out the man's arson-murder conviction Friday and ordered him freed if a new trial is not held within 120 days. Han Tak Lee, now 79, has maintained his innocence ever since the July 29, 1989, fire that killed his mentally ill daughter, Ji Yun Lee, 20, whom he had taken, at the advice of the family pastor, from their New York home to the Korean Christian retreat near Stroudsburg, Monroe County. U.S. District Judge William Nealon vacated the conviction and life sentence - a rare ruling in the justice system and an acknowledgment that arson investigation has evolved over the last 20 years, with scientists now dismissing many of what had been considered classic signs of arson as discredited legends.........Lee is among a handful of Pennsylvania inmates, including Daniel Dougherty of Northeast Philadelphia, who are seeking their freedom because of the evolving fire science, and there has been widening discussion within the justice system nationally about what to do with what could be hundreds of old arson cases that relied on now-discarded beliefs. Convictions already have been overturned in California, Michigan, Indiana, and Massachusetts.........In his ruling, Nealon accepted the recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson, who concluded in June that most of what the jury in Lee's case had been told during the 1990 trial was based on a flawed analysis of the scene."

The entire story can be found at:

See earlier Associated Press story on how "bad science" led to his arson murder conviction.  "The arsonist who killed Ji Yun Lee was especially cruel and calculating, dousing her small cabin in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains with more than 60 gallons (230 liters) of gasoline and heating fuel and setting at least eight fires, ending at the front door to block any chance of escape. Then he watched calmly as the cabin turned into an inferno. That was the prosecution's case against the victim's father, Han Tak Lee, and it persuaded a jury to convict the South Korean immigrant of first-degree murder. He's serving a sentence of life without parole. But the arson science underlying his conviction turned out to be all wrong."


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