NY fire investigator admits to lying on resume during trial of fatal fire

Lt. Allen Williams made himself out to be a Certified Fire Investigator, but had not actually received certification from the IAAI


Douglass Dowty
Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

Syracuse, N.Y. — A recently appointed Syracuse fire investigator admitted to a murder jury this morning a “misrepresentation” on his resume.

Lt. Allen Williams, who led the arson investigation at 253 Fitch St., made himself out to be a Certified Fire Investigator under the rigorous standards of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

He’s a crucial witness for prosecutors attempting to prove that Charles DuBois, 21, intentionally set two fires in his residence early April 5, 2018, killing four family members.

DuBois is facing up to life in prison without parole, if convicted.

Charles DuBois is accused of intentionally killing 4 family members in a Fitch Street fire. He stands in court next to his lawyers, David Zukher and Ken Moynihan. To the far right is prosecutor Robert Moran.

But defense lawyer Ken Moynihan immediately jumped on Williams’ resume. After all, Williams’ main contribution to the trial was as an expert witness: one who could credibly testify to the jury a hypothesis of what happened.

Moynihan noted that Williams added credentials to the end of his name: “IAAI-CFF." That indicated that Williams had passed standards by the international group.

But that’s not the case, Williams admitted on the witness stand.

First, Williams asserted that he was, in fact, certified as fire investigator by IAAI. But after Moynihan pressed him, Williams admitted he wasn’t.

Yes, he was a certified fire investigator allowed to work in New York State. And yes, he was a regular member of IAAI. But he had not gotten their certification.

Moynihan noted that rules prohibit fraud or misrepresentation of IAAI credentials. “I wasn’t intending fraud,” Williams responded.

“But it’s clearly a misrepresentation on your resume?” Moynihan pressed.

“Yes,” Williams replied, after a pause.

That opened the door to a cringe-worthy cross-examination in which Moynihan grilled Williams on basics of fire investigation.

“What is fire science?” Moynihan asked. When Williams responded correctly, the lawyer pressed on. “What is radiant heat flux?” “Why does it matter?”

Williams was stumped by the last question. “I’m not sure at this time,” he responded, as the jury looked on.

Moynihan continued with a dozen questions in all. Some, he suggested, were like what one would find on a high school chemistry test.

“What’s a change of state?” Williams answered correctly: when, for example, water freezes to ice.

“Do you know the difference between a vapor and a gas?”

“Not at this time,” Williams responded again.

Meanwhile, looking on in the courtroom were Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick -- who’d stopped by to observe -- and one of Williams’ instructors, now-retired fire investigator Lt. Joe Galloway.

The pop quiz continued until prosecutor Robert Moran objected. County Court Judge Thomas J. Miller then cut Moynihan’s quiz short.

“What is your definition of thermodynamics?” Moynihan tried one last time.

Miller called the lawyers up to the bench. Afterward, he told the lawyer: “Next question.”

Williams’ testimony had begun smoothly, with the investigator walking the jury through the crime scene using images in a PowerPoint presentation.

Williams said he concluded, based on the shape, direction and extent of fire, that two fires started nearly simultaneously: one on the living room couch and another under the basement stairs. Those fires eventually joined and engulfed the first floor in flames.

Williams ruled out electronics, appliances and heating systems as the source, noting that fire damage either avoided those areas or appeared to spread from outside the devices inward.

Perhaps most crucially, he opined that the fire had been going for awhile before the upstairs residents called desperately for help at 3:15 a.m.

DuBuois, the accused murderer, had left to walk his dog roughly around 3:08 a.m. Williams told the jury that the fire would have been clearly apparent before DuBois left the house.

But Moynihan immediately attacked Williams’ credentials. The experienced firefighter had only been an investigator a short while and had never testified before in a jury trial.

Williams had 120 hours of training to be an investigator, but had never attended college. (Williams had military experience unrelated to fire investigation.)

After exposing the resume misrepresentation, Moynihan also questioned Williams’ techniques. The investigator acknowledged collecting no physical evidence from the scene and taking no precise measurements.

Moynihan was continuing to cross-examine Williams when Miller called a lunch recess.

DuBois’s trial resumes at 2 p.m.

Earlier Thursday, a Syracuse police detective testified about his interrogation of the suspect the morning of the fire. Detective Kevin Birardi told the jury that he came to believe that DuBois started the fire, but that the defendant disagreed.

At one point, DuBois said that if he had wanted to kill his family members, “I would have done it with my bare hands so I could look into the windows of their souls and know the torture that they put me through. I am going to make sure that they see me and know I’m not playing no more.”

But he didn’t do any of that, DuBois insisted.

“There is no ‘why,’ because there is no, ‘I did it,’” he said at one point.

Syracuse Fire Department Lt. Allen Williams, who led the arson investigation at 253 Fitch St., leaves the courtroom on Thursday, May 2, 2019, (Douglass Dowty | syracuse.com)

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©2019 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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