David Williams

Charges have been dropped against the man accused of starting a house fire last month that killed his fiance's three children.

Dan Patterson, the chief assistant for the Greene County prosecutors office, says he was contacted after business hours Thursday April 21st by a fire investigator who told him that the evidence used to charge David Williams was questionable at best. "The cause and certainty of the origin of the fire could not be determined at this time," said Patterson.

Prosecutors charged Williams after an accelerant-sniffing dog, Ashes, "hit" on accelerant on Williams jeans and at several places within the house as well.

It was a sensational story....how could a man who acted as the father to three children set a fire that would kill them? Williams fiance,Violet Watson, steadfastly maintained his innocence, however the court of public opinion had already convicted Williams as a baby killer. The public outcry was deafening.

The Sentinel raised the question of the possibility of flashover to prosecutors last month after we learned that lab evidence showed no trace of accelerants in any of the evidence taken to the crime lab. Patterson now says, "There is insufficient evidence to proceed at this time." He also notes that the investigation is ongoing.

In December of 1991 a similar fire took place in Corsicana, Texas. Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of starting a fire that killed his three children. Arson investigators testified that their were "char patterns" and accelerants used to start that fire and that Willingham was responsible for the fire that claimed his children's lives.

Prosecutors offered Willingham a plea deal, if he would plead guilty they would take the death penalty off the table and offer him a life sentence. Willingham, who maintained his innocence, rejected the state's offer and took his chances with the jury. It was a gamble that ultimately cost him his life.

In August of 1992, after deliberating less than an hour, the jury convicted Willingham of three counts of capital murder. In January of 2004, Willingham was scheduled to be put to death, Dr. Gerald Hurst, a scientist and fire investigator, who has been successful in helping overturn numerous arson convictions was contacted by friends and relatives of Willingham.

Hurst agreed to have a look at the case pro bono. Hurst concluded that the Willingham fire was accidental and that the burn patterns and accelerant found at the scene was the result of flashover.  Lawyers for Willingham filed Hurst's findings with the Texas Board of Pardon and Parole. Attorney's say the board received the findings, but never reviewed them before denying Willingham's plea for clemency. He was executed on February 17, 2004.
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Watson children killed in fire
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During his 37 day incarceration, Williams had asked to be allowed attend the funeral of Alexis, Devin and Kelsey. Judge Mark Powell granted that request, but Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott said he did not have enough manpower to transport Williams' to attend and make sure he had no physical contact with anyone at the service.




Sheriff Jim Arnott

Last month Williams attorney, Andy Hosmer said, "An innocent man in Texas was executed for a similar situation. We don't want to see an innocent man go to jail here for something he didn't do."

Hosmer says, "In a rush to judgement, prosecutors charged an innocent man. My client is relieved to be out of jail, and happy to be home with his family. We are weighing all of our options at this point. I'm not sure how we will proceed."
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Hosmer says a civil case is not out of the question.




UPDATE 03-16-13:

Violet Watson-Williams has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her former landlords Richard and Nancy Preffitt.  The lawsuit, which seeks damages in excess of $25,000, says the Prefritt's “owed a duty” to Watson and her children when they rented them a house that should have been safe.  It alleges that the Preffitt's failed to inspect and make repairs to the home prior to Watson and her children moving in.

The house had “faulty wiring” and did not have the appropriate number of smoke detectors and/or failed to have functioning smoke detectors in the residence, according to documents filed in the  lawsuit filed last week in Greene County.

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