George Souliotes and his legal team (from left): Orrick Attorney Shannon Leong, NCIP Legal Director Linda Starr, George Souliotes, Orrick Attorney Jimmy McBirney and former Orrick Attorney Megan Crane
SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 15, 2013 –The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law and Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP announced that on April 12, a California federal district court judge overturned the wrongful conviction of George Souliotes for arson and triple murder. Souliotes, 72, has served 16 years of his sentence of three life terms without parole.
In granting his release, District Judge Anthony W. Ishii found Souliotes had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. That finding came a year after his attorneys persuaded the judge of Souliotes’ “actual innocence,” successfully arguing his conviction was based on faulty fire science and that no reasonable juror today would convict him.
The judge ordered his release unless the State of California not only notifies the court that it intends to retry Souliotes, but also takes concrete and substantial steps to do so within 30 days. The order does not specify when he is to be released, but his attorneys expect it to be within 30 days.
“After more than 10 years of fighting for Mr. Souliotes’ freedom we are gratified that the court has found him innocent and ordered his release,” said Linda Starr, NCIP’s legal director. “Mr. Souliotes’ conviction was a tragedy, and we now know it was based on faulty fire science that has since been discredited. We hope the California Attorney General will honor the judge’s ruling and not take any further action that might needlessly delay Mr. Souliotes’ long overdue return home. ”
On January 15, 1997, a rental property owned by Souliotes in Modesto, Calif., burned to the ground in the middle of the night and three tenants died in the fire.
The prosecution’s case against Souliotes was based almost entirely on two forensic pieces of evidence that new developments in fire science have since discredited: First, investigators based their arson determination on certain indicators that were long believed to be evidence of arson — but developments in modern fire science have shown these indicators are just as consistent with accidental fires or any fire where the temperature reaches “flashover” conditions.
Second, forensic tests revealed a chemical compound known as a medium petroleum distillate, or “MPD,” was found at the fire scene and on Souliotes’ shoes. MPDs are a chemical compound that exist in some ignitable liquids such Continue reading