Hint. A de-glassed light bulb makes a pretty good ignitor After a
blast, who can tell if the bulb was broken before or by the blast???
And the lamp may have been connected to that same timer for 15 years
previously - a totally legitimate application. The folks are not home
- the light is on a timer.
What super CSI is going to figure that one out????
Accident reconstruction is more art than science in my experience. Lots of
people think the debris leaves an unequivocal trail of clues that always
points to the right culprit. Not so. Anyone recall the story of the
California fire investigator/author/arsonist John Orr?
<<His modus operandi was to set fires using an incendiary timing-device,
usually comprising a lit cigarette, three matches wrapped in ruled yellow
writing paper and secured by a rubber band, in stores while they were open
and populated. He would set small fires often in the grassy hills, in order
to draw firefighters, leaving fires set in more congested areas
Given the mild weather in Indy on that day, I would probably use the
thermostat. I set it for something that may be higher than usual, but
not unduly high. . It would have taken a while after the sun went down
for the house to get cold enough to kick off the furnace and ignite the
gas. The seat would be near the furnace and it would have been written
off as a leak around the furnace.
America is at that awkward stage. It's too late
to work within the system, but too early to shoot
"Breathtaking?" Either you are easily impressed or you watch too many shows
on Lifetime. Please don't start to "giggle" like a geisha next. (-:
The comment was meant to illustrate that accident investigation theory is
undergoing a profound change and that principles that had been accepted for
decades are being cast aside. If there was any sort of fire, plastic
melting could be a factor depending on what kind of ignition system was
If you followed the investigation of the San Bruno blast of the 30" high
pressure main, you'd know that the forensics of gas explosions is undergoing
change as well. It took quite some for experts to discover the possible
causes of the failure and ongoing civil litigation reveals there's still
doubt about whether it was a failed weld or corrosion (caused by impurities
and condensation that pooled in an improperly sloped section of the pipe).
As always, the potentially negligent parties deny any role in the explosion.
<< in a filing in San Mateo County Superior Court last Tuesday in response
to more than 100 lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages, PG&E's
lawyers took a more combative stance. The company said it should not be held
liable for the disaster because "unforeseeable, intervening and/or
superseding acts of persons or entities" other than PG&E caused the blast.>>
Civil litigation concerning these sorts of disasters serves to illustrate
the rather wide range of opinion that accident investigators have because
multiple litigants all have their own expert witnesses. In a criminal case,
there's usually the state v. the defendant. In a big explosion, their may
be 5 to 10 defendants and their experts will have slightly (or wildly)
different theories as to the cause of the explosion.
You were there? (-: In my experience the larger the crime scene, the
harder it is to control. Whenever fire and rescue are involved searching
the scene for possible survivors, a good attorney can cast doubt on any
evidence found perhaps days later. Look at the Travon Martin shooting. Not
a very well-secured crime scene and that's become a big issue in that case.
Accidental contamination of the crime scene is sadly the rule, not the
exception. At least from what I've seen. Neighbors, EMT's, lookie-lous,
etc. Remember, I'm talking about *good* lawyers. The odds are if this was
an arson-for-profit crime the defendants don't have any money to pay a real
attorney. Most likely they'll get a public defender with no budget to rebut
the state's expert witnesses.
Arsonists are inventive. In Boston, investigators were stumped for quite
some time by a professional arsonist who used gasoline soaked rats in a cage
that he lit on fire as he released them into a building he wanted to burn.
Very, very little in the way of forensics because almost all abandoned
buildings harbor rats and there was no mechanical igniter. The gasoline
used was not enough per rat to trigger the hydrocarbon "sniffers" used by
The case broke only because a cop saw a flaming rat running across the
street in front of his patrol car just *before* a building erupted into
flame and saw the arsonist's van peel out. Usually the rats would run into
the building looking for hole or some sort of cover, but this rat ran out of
the building instead. Of course, he was a professional (the arsonist, not
the rat!). The Indiana people are likely amateurs who often fold under
interrogation. These are the kinds of cases where the DAs really, REALLY
want a confession because of the evidentiary problems that arson cases often
Pete, you dang sumnobitch, you stole my fire! (-:
That case, and a few others, have resulted in a very fundamental
re-examination of what was standard practice in fire investigation. For
those too lazy to click, Wiki did a pretty good summary showing two of the
"givens" in fire investigation (glass crazing and accelerant trails) that
are no longer accepted as fact:
<<Long after the original conviction, in 2004 Gerald Hurst, who has a Ph.D.
in chemistry, examined the arson evidence compiled by Manuel Vasquez, the
state deputy fire marshal. Hurst said that Vasquez was incorrect when he
said that the extreme heat of the fire (as evidenced by a melted aluminum
threshold) indicated that an accelerant was used, and said that experiments
prove that wood and liquid accelerant fires can burn with equal heat.
Hurst's own experiments showed that burning with an accelerant does not
leave the kind of brown stains that Vasquez claimed were created that way.
Hurst also said that the crazed glass that Vasquez said was caused by a
liquid accelerant had been found as a result of brush fires elsewhere.
Experiments showed that crazed glass was caused not by rapid heating but by
cooling, and that glass cooled by water from a fire hose was more likely to
have a crazed or cracked pattern. A $20,000 experimental house fire set
without an accelerant created the same pour patterns and V shaped pattern
that Vasquez attributed to the use of a liquid accelerant.>>
The methods and techniques fire investigators have relied on for almost half
a century were based on test burnings involving a 1950's built home and
furnishings. The amount of plastic used back then was miniscule compared to
how much plastic you find in a modern home.
I wasn't trying to come off as knowing anything.
But that Wikipedia account seemed to support the contention that
arson investigation was pretty bad in the past and has moved more
into the realm of science today.
And Rick Perry looked pretty mean in that article.
The ability of the Governor of Texas to interfere in an execution is
severely restricted. On his own motion, he can issue ONE stay for, I
believe, thirty days. Anything else, up to and including remission of
sentence, pardon, or additional stays have to be initiated by the state
board of Pardons & Parols. If the board does vote for a stay, the governor
may consent to the stay or decline the recommendation.
Courts, both federal and state, have their own policies, but, by far, more
stays are issued by the courts than the governor's office.
Texas recently did away with the "last meal" tradition. Formerly, a
condemned prisoner could request anything for his last meal, with some
exceptions such as alcohol or cigarettes, whose cost to the prison system
did not exceed fifty dollars.
Now, the prisoner gets, for his last meal, the same thing as everybody else
in the place.
Considering the number of executions that take place in Texas, fifty bucks
per adds up to a nifty sum pretty quickly.
I considered constructing a web site:
It's purpose would be to solicit donations to provide this last meal of
virtually anything the condemned wanted*. I'd have to get the state's prison
officials on board, but I don't see any real problem with that. In the first
place, they'd save a little money, but more importantly, they'd get
atta-boys for being the compassionate public servants we all know deep-down
Those who contribute would bask in the certain knowledge they are helping
the soul of an unfortunate transition from worldly pain into the loving arms
of baby Jesus (with suitable substitutions for Muslims, Jews, and
Of course there would probably be significant expenses involved:
administration, supervision, correspondence, etc., that would accrue to
thelastmeal.org's clerical staff (me), but I wouldn't take more than half
the salary of the United Way's CEO.
* Alternatively, the inmate could choose from a comprehensive menu provided
Give yourself some creadit. You heard about the case. That's more than a
lot of people know.
I would say "is moving more into the realm of science" because there's
plenty of just awful accident reconstruction out there, whether fire,
explosion or collision. The advent of easy-to-use simulation programs make
it very easy for someone who's not really an experienced professional to
make a presentation that impresses the hell out of a jury, even if it's a
I once had the pleasure of watching a crusty old one-armed judge from North
Carolina eject an alleged forensic expert. The expert had never been to the
site and only had a pack of drugstore color prints taken by an insurance
investigator to work from.
It will take a while for the new methodologies to "ripple" through the
profession. Sometimes it takes a generation for the old guys to retire and
new guys to come up trained in the modern way of doing things. When DNA
first became prevalent, evidence techs used to saturate a crime scene with
Luminol to make blood spatter appear under UV light. It also contaminated
the living hell out of the DNA, rendering it useless for matching purposes.
It has taken a while for investigators to understand how to preserve and
collect DNA. I was surprised to learn that as of the OJ case, some big-city
homicide detectives still didn't get it right.
Rick will make a wonderful President of the Republic of Texas when they
secede from the Union.
I thought he was the most electable of the field and was surprised to see
him knocked out of the box so early. So he forgot stuff and froze - running
a state as large as Texas seems to me to be good OJT for a would-be POTUS.
I just read a bit online about the Willingham case. Not sure
about the forensic evidence and a lot of that may have
been poorly done, but some of his actions and
statements as reported by witnesses sure were strange.
For example, he told a fire investigator that he poured
mens cologne down a hallway leading to the kids bedrooms
because they like the smell of it? Sure seems like
someone who knew an accelerant was used and trying to
come up with plausible deniability. And not very smart
either, with that story.....
Yep, why rely on science when human weakness is so vast?. The problem, of
course, is that it's well known prosecutors can get whatever testimony they
need by jacking someone up for some other crime (drug possesion's a
favorite) and then "leveraging" the desired testimony out of them for a
promise of immunity.
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