How reliable are canine accelerant dogs? Greene County chief assistant prosecutor Dan Patterson says they are a useful tool in prosecution. Defense attorney Andy Hosmer says the "hits" the dogs make need to be backed up by lab analysis.
Greene County chief assistant prosecutor Dan Patterson confirms that lab tests conducted on the clothing of David Williams, the man accused of setting a fatal house fire that claimed the lives of three children on March 15th, reveal that there was no presence of accelerants either on the clothing or "burn patterns" that were found in the West Olive house that trained accelerant dog Ashes hit on.
Hosmer says that the National Fire Protection Association's handbook recommends lab tests confirm the existence of an accelerant that is recognized by an accelerant dog. "The lab results that the state says they have gotten back from the crime lab are inconsistent with what the their trained dog told them."
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.
Hosmer says, "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."
Prosecutor Patterson has choices when Williams appears for his preliminary hearing on May 3rd. Either drop the charges and let investigators continue their investigation, proceed with the case or amend the charges. Judge Mark Powell denied Hosmer's motion to have his client's bond reduced from $250,000. "He really didn't offer a reason why," Hosmer said.
Hosmer says, "We will pursue whatever options we have available to us. My client maintains his innocence. We haven't made a decision as to how we will proceed."
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 Preffitt's “owed a duty” to Watson and her children when they rented them a house that should have been safe. It alleges that the landlords 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