August 20, 2012
The Indianapolis Star
Indiana mom convicted in son's death could be freed
An attorney for an Indiana mother convicted of setting a 1995 fire that killed her 3-year-old son said Monday that he expects her to be released on bond this week while she awaits a new trial on charges of murder and arson.
The Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday ordered a Decatur County court to either reinstate Kristine Bunch's original $5,000 bond or hold a new bond hearing. The local judge scheduled a hearing for 3 p.m. Wednesday, beating a court-imposed deadline by one hour.
Bunch's attorney, Ron Safer, said Monday that he doubts the local court will set Bunch's bond any higher than it did in 1996, even though bond in murder cases is rare.
"I can't think of any reason on the face of the earth why the bond would be any higher than it was," Safer said.
"There was some doubt even then, and now there's a huge doubt that there was even a crime that was committed," he added. Bunch's lawyers have argued that scientific advances now show there was no evidence of arson in the 1996 mobile home fire.
The appeals court overturned the 38-year-old Greensburg woman's conviction in March, and the Indiana Supreme Court allowed the ruling to stand, setting the stage for a new trial.
Safer said Bunch is eager to get out after spending 16 years in the state women's prison, where she earned a GED and a paralegal degree.
"She's ecstatic. She's more patient than I am. But, you know, she can't wait to breathe fresh air, free air," Safer said in a phone interview.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office referred questions to the Decatur County prosecutor, who was in a meeting and couldn't be reached for comment.
An Indiana Court of Appeals panel ruled 2-1 in March that Bunch should receive a new trial because the evidence used to convict her was outdated, weak and wrongly withheld from the defense. It said prosecutors should have provided her defense with a lab report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that allegedly found no trace of kerosene in her son's bedroom, as prosecutors alleged. The boy died of smoke inhalation.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law took up the woman's case, saying investigators at the time misinterpreted burn patterns caused by a flashover as marks from accelerant and that there was no evidence of arson. They also argued advances in toxicology showed the child would have died from fire, not smoke, had the blaze been set in his room.
Safer, a private attorney who is handling the case pro bono, also said prosecutors had no evidence of a motive in the case. Neither the home nor Bunch's son, Tony, was insured, he said.