WACO (January 11, 2013)—Combustion science expert Douglas James Carpenter of Baltimore testified Friday that the evidence that sent a suburban Waco man to prison nearly 25 years ago for the fiery deaths of his two stepsons in 1986 was based on a hypothesis that new studies have debunked as myth.
Ed Graf is seeking a new trial based on modern forensic techniques that could prove he didn't start the Aug. 26, 1986 fire that killed his two stepsons ages 8, and 9, in the backyard of the family’s home in Hewitt.
Carpenter testified Friday that he thinks the fire started accidentally and he said the doors of the shed had to be open based on the carbon monoxide levels in the lungs of the two boys, not closed as prosecutors maintained during Graf’s original trial.
Graf was convicted of capital murder in 1988 after a McLennan County jury found that he set fire to the shed after locking the boys inside.
Investigators and experts for the prosecution told the jury in 1988 that certain patterns found on the floor of the shed could only mean the fire was set with an accelerant.
But recent findings by arson experts may indicate other causes, and Graf's attorney, Walter (Skip) Reaves of Waco, thinks they could lead to a different verdict.
A second witness, arson expert Robert Paul Bieber of San Jose, Calif., testified Friday that he presented Graf’s case to 33 top arson investigators who concluded that the findings of the original investigation were unreliable.
If retired State District Judge George Allen, who presided over Graf’s trial in 1988, finds the new evidence sheds doubt on guilt, Graf could be set free and prosecutors would then have to decide if he should be re-tried.
Another hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24, after which Allen will make his recommendation, which will be sent automatically to a state appeals court.
Graf's conviction is among between 25 and 50 nationwide involved in a study conducted by New York-based John Jay College, that says that because arson investigations prior to 2005 were flawed, many people convicted of arson murder prior to 2005 could have been wrongly convicted.
It's high science that has to do with burn patterns and findings of the use of accelerants based upon those patterns.