Case Studies

The cases listed below represent only a few of the unknown number of arson convictions based on unreliable evidence.

Todd Willingham – Executed in 2004 – Texas
Convicted of setting the fire that killed his three young children in 1991, Todd Willingham was executed in 2004. His conviction was based on the testimony of fire investigators that fire patterns examined at the scene could only have been created by a liquid accelerant, even though chemical tests of debris in the suspected area of origin proved negative. Expert review of the evidence now suggests that the most likely cause of the fire was accidental.

Amanda Gutweiler – Indicted for Arson and Murder – Louisiana
In 2001, twenty-miles north of Alexandria, Louisiana,  Amanda Gutweiler was arrested for the murder of her three children after a fire investigator saw signs of spalling on the concrete slab in the area of origin.  The investigator’s suspicions of an ignitable liquid were confirmed by the alert of an accelerant detection K-9 in the same area.  A follow-up investigation by a prosecution expert dismissed the spalling and other burn patterns as indicators of the presence of an ignitable liquid but confirmed the conclusion of arson based on fire modeling and a determination of multiple points of origin.

George Souliotes – RELEASED FROM CUSTODY– California
On July 3, 2013, In order to be released from custody after spending 16 years in prison for an accidental fire misidentified as arson, George Soulitoes entered an Alford plea to involuntary manslaughter for negligently maintaing the smoke alarm in the rental property where a mother and her two young children died in a fire in 1997.  The superior court judge ordered his immediate release from custody.

William Amor – Convicted of First-Degree Murder and Arson – Illinois
William Amor was convicted of arson and murder from a fire that occurred in Naperville, Illinois in September, 1995, in the apartment Mr. Amor shared with his wife and mother-in-law. His mother-in-law, Marianne Meceli, was killed in the fire.

Curtis Severns – Convicted of Arson, Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud – Texas
In Plano, Texas in 2004, ATF investigated a fire at Lone Star Guns, a gun shop owned by Curtis Severns. ATF determined the fire to have been intentionally set based on “multiple areas of origin”. Curtis Severns became the suspect because ATF found no signs of forced entry and, as the owner, he was the only one with a key.

Other Disputed Arson Cases
Innocence Project Arson Cases
International Network for Innocent Arson Defendants