Curtis Severns

Curtis SevernsConvicted of Arson, Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud
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.

Severns’ defense argued that aerosol cans containing flammable gun cleaner caused the separate fires when heat from an accidental fire caused them to rupture, sending them flying through the small room, causing separate fires in their paths and wherever they landed. Although clearly present in scene photographs, the ruptured aerosol cans lying on the floor throughout the room were not mentioned in the ATF cause and origin report and were not seized as evidence.

An ATF Special Agent and an expert witness for the prosecution dismissed the defense’s argument saying that the contents of a ruptured aerosol can burns off quickly and could not cause the fires in separate areas of the room. Severns was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

Six weeks after Severns’ 2006 conviction, a video tape was leaked by someone inside ATF. It contained footage of a 1994 test fire conducted by ATF where aerosol cans were heated in a kitchen fire until they began to explode. In the video aerosol cans on the kitchen countertop can be seeing flying through the room, spraying flaming liquid and starting fires wherever they land.

That ATF and federal prosecutors were aware of this exculpatory evidence prior to Severns’ trial is undeniable: Supervisory Special Agent Kelton Thorton participated in the 1994 live fire exercise where the aerosol can video was created and supervised the Lone Star Guns investigation. After seeing the video, prosecution expert John DeHaan admitted in an interview with the Texas Observer that it was “theoretically possible” for the fire to have been accidental.

Links

Burn Patterns – Texas Observer
United States v. Severns – United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

ATF Arson Investigation Training Exercise