The State Fire Marshal’s Office is testing old arson cases for bad science, earning national attention for confronting a dark legacy — fire investigators who helped send Texans to prison with scientifically invalid arson rulings. Three questionable convictions have been discovered so far.
But the effort has also drawn the ire of a West Texas prosecutor who, upset at the questions raised about a 1993 murder conviction, has moved to shut down the reviews.
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Findings in 4 cases
The State Fire Marshal’s Office Science Advisory Workgroup has completed reviews of four cases, finding three riddled with bad science, unreliable arson conclusions and inadequate investigative procedures:
• Sonia Cacy: Sentenced to 99 years for murder. Accused of setting fire to her elderly uncle in his Fort Stockton home in 1991. On parole since 1998.
• Edward Graf: Given a life sentence for setting fire to a shed behind his Waco-area home, killing two stepsons in 1986. Murder conviction overturned on appeal; new trial planned.
• Douglas Boyington: Serving a 75-year sentence for arson. Accused of setting fire to a Pasadena apartment building in 1988. No pending appeal.
One case met “present-day scientific standards” for fire investigations:
• Sadie Proffitt: Sentenced to 60 years for setting fire to her Lake Jackson apartment, killing two adults and two children in a nearby apartment in 2000. Paroled in 2011 for medical reasons.
Expert review panel
The Science Advisory Workgroup, assembled by the State Fire Marshal’s Office to review old cases, includes:
Mark Goodson: Fire investigation expert specializing in mechanical and electrical engineering.
John DeHaan: Forensic science expert, author of “Kirk’s Fire Investigation” — a leading industry manual — and co-author of “Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction.”
David Icove: Arson investigation expert, co-author of several fire industry textbooks, former FBI criminal profiler specializing in serial arsonists.
Thomas Sing: Thirty-year investigator of fires and explosions.
Nizam Peerwani: Chief medical examiner for Tarrant, Parker, Denton and Johnson counties; member of the Texas Forensic Science Commission.
Kathleen Crouch: A Houston lawyer specializing in insurance fraud and insurance claim investigations.
Chuck Lindell has covered legal affairs since 2005 and has written extensively about DNA testing and wrongful convictions.