Advertisement

A Virginia man who served 21 years behind bars after being convicted of intentionally setting a fire that killed his two children was fully pardoned by the governor last week.

Davey Reedy’s attorney and other experts claim flawed arson forensic science put the innocent man in prison for two life sentences – and could have resulted in other wrongful convictions.

“Mr. Reedy was convicted on outdated and long-discredited fire science evidence analysis techniques and an inaccurate scientific analysis claiming the presence of gasoline at the crime scene,” said Tom Bondurant, the lawyer from the Gentry Locke firm in Roanoke, who represented Reedy on the petition for clemency. “As observed in correspondence with the Governor’s Office, the determination of Mr. Reedy’s guilt would better be resolved by ‘reading tea leaves’ than the scientific evidence presented in the criminal jury trial.”

Reedy’s home burned on Aug. 10, 1987, in southeastern Roanoke. His two children were killed, and he was seriously wounded. The local fire department quickly determined the burn pattern showed evidence of an intentional fire – and they also said they found traces of gasoline on Reedy’s clothing and on a wood floor. He was convicted on first-degree murder and arson charges, and sentenced to two life terms and 10 years in prison.

Reedy reportedly promised he would clear his name prior to being locked up.

“I’m going to prove my innocence if it takes the rest of my life,” he said, shortly before being sentenced by a judge in 1988.

READ MORE: National Review of Forensics Underway, Could be 'Transformational'

The investigative reporting of Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times produced a major series in 1999 which called the conviction into doubt – though Reedy was unsuccessful in arguing his ex-wife could have set the fire.

The Virginia Parole Board released him in 2009 without weighing in on his claims of innocence. The governor’s pardon, however, essentially throws out the accusations.

Reedy’s attorney said last week they were grateful to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s unconditional pardon – and the latest investigator’s commitment to ‘getting it right.’

“It is a stain on our criminal justice system that it took Mr. Reedy serving over 20 years in the penitentiary, being bound by the chains of parole for 7 years and suffering the public stigma of killing his own children before justice was served,” said Bondurant. “It is imperative… old arson convictions be reviewed in the same thoughtful and evenhanded process as that employed by Governor McAuliffe.

Reedy’s case is not alone. Others have claimed that arson forensics have been flawed with homicide cases in the past. Han Tak Lee served 24 years in Pennsylvania prisons on a conviction of killing his 20-year-old mentally-ill daughter by fire, before being set free last year based on the latest science, as profiled in The ABA Journal.

The most infamous disputed arson case, however, is the conviction and 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas. Willingham was accused of setting a fire to kill his three daughters in 1991 – but he maintained his innocence until he was killed. Some forensic experts cast doubt on the science used prior to his lethal injection.

The Arson Research Project claims that such wrong interpretations of burn patterns and trace evidence were once “common errors.”

Advertisement
Advertisement