Last month, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project joined in a request to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams that his office actively investigate a case where a man was sentenced to die for setting fire to his own home in what, according to leading arson investigators, could just have likely been an accidental fire. Daniel Dougherty was arrested 14 years after a fire ravaged his home, killing his young sons, Danny and Johnny. At his trial, local fire marshalls testified that because there appeared to be separate “points of origin” where the fire started (that is, fires started independent of each other at roughly the same time), it was a case of arson. However, modern scientific arson techniques have conclusively proven that such assumptions are simply untrue. Due to a phenomenon known as “flashover effect,” a fire that envelops an entire room, but started at a single place, can leave behind the same indicia as one where fires are started separately.
That is precisely what two separate, independent fire investigators have said happened in this fire. While both John Lentini and Angelo Pisani cannot say for certain that the fire started accidentally, they have both prepared reports with the same conclusion: the fire was not, in contradiction to the fire marshal’s trial testimony, exclusively a case of arson. It is at least equally probable that the fire started accidentally, as Mr. Dougherty has always maintained.
So far, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has maintained that “the jury’s verdict was a proper one,” and has refused to look at the case again. A petition is pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking for consideration of Mr. Dougherty’s last appeal.