Arson Exoneration in Michigan…

Release yesterday from the Michigan Innocence Clinic:

The Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce that our client Victor Caminata was exonerated today at the Wexford County Courthouse in Cadillac, Michigan. Mr. Caminata had served 5 years and 2 weeks of wrongful imprisonment for arson before he was released on July 2, 2013, when the Michigan Attorney General’s Office agreed that his conviction should be vacated because its experts no longer stood by the arson determination that had sent Mr. Caminata to prison to serve 9 to 40 years. Today, the AG dismissed the case with prejudice.

Mr. Caminata was convicted after the house he shared with his then-girlfriend and their children burned in 2008. An initial fire investigation concluded that the fire originated in the chimney, which was connected to a wood stove. But after the police received an anonymous tip, investigators re-examined the wreckage and found supposed signs that the fire had been intentionally set to look like a chimney fire. Remarkably, the state’s investigators never examined the interior of the chimney, which is the most basic step a fire investigator is required to take before ruling out a chimney fire.

Today’s final dismissal came almost two years after we filed a motion for relief from judgment for Mr. Caminata based on the conclusion of our experts that the state’s fire investigators had committed fundamental errors in violation of NFPA 921, that the supposed signs of arson were spurious, and that the original determination that an accidental chimney fire had burned the house was, in fact, correct.

We are especially grateful to Jim Samuels of Big Rapids, Michigan, and Mike McKenzie of Atlanta, Georgia, both of whom co-counseled the case with the Clinic on a pro bono basis, and to experts Joe Filas and Tom May, who also lent their services pro bono. Staff attorney Imran Syed led our legal team, which included at various times former co-director (now Michigan Supreme Court justice) Bridget McCormack, clinical professor Kim Thomas, and former students Blase Schmid, Adam Thompson, Kate O’Connor, Rachel Burg, Zach Dembo, Nick Hambley, Laura Andrade, Jocelin Chang, and Marc Allen, and current students Lexi Bond, Emily Goebel, and Claire Madill.

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