#FreeHugney Update and Response to the DA’s Points
We applaud the First Assistant District Attorney for picking up this case personally. Until the reporters called for comment, he had not been aware of the litigation. In a very short period of time, he was seemingly able to understand some of the basics of the case in under 24 hours. However, in fairness to him, it is believed that due to his late arrival and because of that, understandably, he may not have been aware of some of the matters that we have been blogging on here for some time.
According to his comments, his major points of criticism were as follows:
1. Why are there no expert reports?
Answer: This is a legitimate question, one that we have been pursuing for some time now. He and I talked early this morning (I understand his comments to the press were made yesterday). At least now, and as of that conversation, he knows full well that our petition for funds that was filed on January 13, 2014 and has not been acted upon. He also knows that due to this delay and other issues, we filed a motion to recuse the trial judge. (You can read about that here Is a Judge Frustrating Justice? A second update to the Burning Bed case: Has an Innocent Man Been Locked up for 35 Years for an Arson that Never Happened?) So, all of this lead us to the unusual step of seeking crowdfund at www.GoFundMe.com/FreeHugney
2. There was gasoline (later corrected to “consistent with gasoline”) near the bed.
Answer: That is not entirely accurate. That is perhaps a summary of what was believed in 1978 and was part of the problem with the science of the day.
Here are the laboratory reports in full: www.freehugney.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Laboratory-results.zip
My declaration was filed on February 22, 2014 (https://www.thetruthaboutforensicscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/02-22-13-Declaration-of-McShane.pdf) I pointed out and provided external references when I wrote:
1.6. Analytical chemistry was involved in this case in the precise areas where the Fire Marshall believed that there was accelerant. The laboratory’s conclusion was that there was no petroleum distillate present on any of the first batch of samples. The collected burned underpants also had no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). The sample of the flooring at the burn patterns also had no VOC’s. The laboratory only did a boiling point analysis for possible hydrocarbons for item 2 of the second batch, which was the flooring near the dresser of the victim’s room. The report opines that the boiling point analysis of item 2 revealed “an unidentified series of hydrocarbons . . . The boiling point range of these hydrocarbons was similar to that of gasoline and lighter fluid.”
And later I wrote:
1.6. The analytical chemistry disproves the use of accelerant at all in this case. It is very likely that one result was mis-characterized to the jury. In the precise areas where the fire marshal believed that there was accelerant, the laboratory’s conclusion was that there was no petroleum distillate. The burned underpants also had no VOCs. The flooring of the burn patterns also had no VOC’s. The laboratory only did a boiling point analysis for possible hydrocarbons for item 2, which was the flooring near the dresser of the victim’s room. Boiling point analysis was never a confirmatory test, even in 1978. It could never stand alone as a method of identification. It is a forensically unacceptable analytical technique to definitively determine VOC’s as it is a wholly non-specific method of analysis. Melting point (Mp) analysis, as it is technically called, is a simple analysis. It was a potential screening method back in the 1970’s, but is not favored even back then as there are much better and more specific methods to identify accelerant. The core of the issue with Mp analysis is that many substances have similar melting points. The thermometers used in the 1970’s were not NIST traceable as they should be today. Mp is dependent on pressure as well. The biggest source of error stems from the visual detection of melting by the experimenter. Further, it is well known that false positives from this crude method of analysis occur. The source of these false positives generally fall into “two basic categories: (1) actual liquid petroleum products that are present in the substrate material; and (2) substrate materials that pyrolyze to form interfering volatile compounds in the range of common ignitable liquids. Previous work has revealed that many items used in homes and buildings are made of synthetic materials that, when exposed to fire conditions, will produce volatile pyrolyzates in the boiling point of range of commonly encountered ignitable liquids. Early research focused primarily on the latter category, and studied the pyrolyzates of common building materials such as wood, carpet, and floor tile.”
Sources: John J. Lentini et. al., The petroleum-laced background, 45(5) J. Forensic Sci. 968 (2000); I.C. Stone & J.N. Lamonte, False positives in the analysis of fire debris, 34(3) Fire & Arson Investigator 36 (1984); John Howard & Bruce McKague, A fire investigation involving combustion of carpet material, 29(3) J. Forensic Sci. 919 (1984); R.W. Clodfelter & E.E. Hueske, A comparison of decomposition products from selected burned materials with common arson accelerants, 22(1) J. Forensic Sci. 116 (1977); and J.D. DeHaan & K. Bonarius, Pyrolysis products of structure fires, 28 J. Forensic Sci. 299 (1988).
There were 5 other points that were brought up in the 1978 investigation that were soundly refuted and is in that declaration. While I admit, it is my opinion, it is far from what I think the DA meant to say. I think in the interview that he means to state that I only have a belief. This is not so. My opinion is not an uneducated one. I have provided all of my references as found in the modern fire science. Over 50 references are listed here: Modern Fire Science Investigation. I invite everyone to review my declaration and references. If others have additional information that will refute my positions, I will gladly re-evaluate my positions.
As to the balance of his concerns, it really is simple. If there is no arson, then there can be no arson-murder conviction. The science is empirical and objective. Let’s follow the science.
In the newly discovered evidence claim, we are not seeking to re-litigate or re-evaluate the already offered fact witnesses’ testimony. We are only seeking to look at the tangible, empirical and scientific evidence in its now proper lens. What the DA is doing is focusing on the facts and science from the first trial some 35 years ago. What we are doing is use modern proven science and show simply this was not arson.
By his own admission, Hugney was not the best person in the world, but that doesn’t make him a murderer or an arsonist.
The science is what it is it proves or shows what it shows. It is either there or it is not. It is simple truth. After the experts look at the evidence using mainstream modern scientific techniques, the answer will be simple and clear: This was not arson and hence was not murder.
We respect each and every single comment he has made we honor it. We welcome his questions.
Every single piece of evidence, every single photo, every single transcript (including evidence of the recanting of the jailhouse witness), every single news article and every piece of scientific rationale including all of the peer review articles that proves that the fire investigation of 1978 is not supported by modern fire science is at www.FreeHugney unedited and unvarnished for all to read in its entirety in order to form an educated opinion. That is all that we ask of anyone. Look at it all and make up your mind based upon the information and the record. This effort is aimed solely at getting a new trial so all of the modern scientific evidence can be heard by a jury and evaluated fairly. This type of evaluation of the science has never happened before. Our understanding of science changes over time. Lead bullet analysis, hair microscopy and fire science has fundamentally changed in the decades since this case. As we learn more, our previous conclusions need to be re-evaluated as well.
Dauphin County is a wonderful place to live. My family and I live there. I have several properties in Dauphin County. I moved my parents up here and they bought a house here in Dauphin County too. All of my 23 employees and their families live in Dauphin County. One of the key features that makes Dauphin County such a wonderful place to live is the Office of the District Attorney. They are fair and reasonable. They protect our families and our neighborhoods with honor. It is our hope that the Office of the District Attorney will work with us hand-in-hand in determining and evaluating the empirical evidence through modern science. We are confident, and are optimistic, that this District Attorney’s Office will do the right thing. It is not too late to right this wrong. It is not too late to do justice.