Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison For Life

...The star witness was ATF Agent James Cooper. Zimmermann made sure the jury heard about his role investigating the Dupont hotel fire, as well as the bombing of the World Trade Center earlier that year. Cooper used slides to walk the jury through the signs of a deliberately set fire. There was the telltale “V” shape identifying the point of origin, in this case, in the living room near the front door. There was the charring, the irregular patterns that form after someone has poured a liquid accelerant on the ground. And there was the bedspread that had been used as a trailer, which tested positive for kerosene. Cooper was especially adamant about the pour patterns. “This is not a spill,” he insisted under cross-examination. “This is a pour and it was deliberately poured to get the fire going from the living room to the back of the house.”

Cooper was voluble and self-assured in his analysis. “These are signs that you can’t change,” he said. “They’re just waving at you, saying, here I am, look at me.” He explained that Claude could have sustained the burns to his face and hand while lighting the kerosene — like when “you’ve got a gas grill and sometimes it won’t ignite and you stick your head down there to see and you’ve got this open flame that comes back with a POOF!”

“I am totally satisfied that the cause of this fire was deliberately set and was set for the purpose of arson,” Cooper concluded. “It was not accidental, whatsoever.”

On August 20, 1993, after two and a half days of deliberations, the jury found Claude Garrett guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.


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