Arson, murder conviction overturned in decades-old case
Greater understanding of the science of fire played a role in the reversal
By Charles Wilson
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana judge dismissed murder and arson charges against a woman whose conviction in her son's 1995 death was overturned, but prosecutors said Tuesday the case isn't closed and they plan to try her again.
Kristine Bunch, 38, spent 16 years in prison after a jury convicted her of setting the fire that killed her 3-year-old son. The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for her in March after finding that evidence used to convict her was outdated, weak and wrongly withheld from the defense.
She was released on bond in August, but prosecutors said then that they intended to retry her. Deputy Prosecutor Doug Brown said Tuesday that that is still the case.
"The case is still being investigated with the intention of taking it to a grand jury or refiling the charges ourselves," Brown told The Associated Press. "We wouldn't walk down a cul-de-sac. We intend on going forward."
A Decatur County judge dropped the charges Monday at prosecutors' request. The dismissal motion filed Monday said prosecutors need more time to identify witnesses and other evidence that are still available after more than a decade.
The Greensburg woman was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 1996 after a Decatur County jury convicted her of murder and arson. The same judge who sentenced her denied a 2006 petition for post-conviction relief based on new evidence.
Attorneys for Schiff Hardin LLP of Chicago and the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, who jointly handled Bunch's appeal, said Tuesday that the case against her was based on outdated science and a jury hearing all of the evidence likely would have acquitted her.
Bunch's attorneys said they did not condemn prosecutors for filing the original charges against her because scientists understood far less about the science of fires than they know now.
Prosecutors who charged Bunch claimed she poured kerosene in the bedroom of her son, Tony, and the living room of their mobile home and lit it on fire. But attorneys for the Center on Wrongful Convictions said investigators at the time misinterpreted burn patterns as indicating an accelerant and that there was no evidence of arson.
They also argued that advances in toxicology showed the child would have died from fire, not smoke inhalation, had the blaze been set in his room.
Ron Safer, Bunch's lead attorney, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.