Corsicana Fire Department: Forensic Analysis

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Death by Fire On December 23, 1991 a residential structure fire occurred in Corsicana, Texas which claimed the lives of three small children and resulted in the execution by lethal injection of their father. An arson investigation was completed by a Texas State Fire Investigator and the Assistant Fire Chief of Corsicana Fire Department. Both of these individuals relied interpretations of what they believed to be arson indicators but failed to find a point of origin or heat source. The flawed investigative techniques utilized by the investigation team is commonly referred to as Negative Corpus Methodology where an investigator determines an ignition source but follows no scientific method and provides no physical evidence to prove what they…show more content…
These laws of physics gives the ability to accurately calculate the actions of a fire. Utilizing a scientific method of arson investigation requires an observation to be made, a hypothesis to be developed, predictions to be made of the outcome of testing, experimentation will be conducted, and conclusion(s) will be drawn from the results of the experimentation. If hypothesis is proven to be false, then the processes starts over with testing of a new hypothesis. The scientific method is formed by validated principles and research which is comprised of fire testing, dynamics, suppression, modeling, pattern analysis, and historical case data (Icove, DeHaan, & Haynes, 2013, p. 48). Forensic analysis in conducting other types of investigations have utilized the scientific method for more than a century. In 1992 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issued the first edition of NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. This guide recommends a forensic fire scene to be reconstructed so that investigators can test their hypothesis and document the results. Conducting an investigation in this manner utilizes a scientific method to evaluate the scene of a fire. Since NFPA 921 was implemented after some fire investigators, which could be working today, began their careers and if they have failed to remain current on investigation methods would indicate they are not utilizing a scientific method…show more content…
This process, known as “negative corpus,” relied on a process of elimination rather than supporting evidence or scientifically supported conclusions, and some investigators feared that a science-based approach would establish criteria of proof that would be too difficult to meet (Durso, 2014). Prior to 1992 there was no standard for which a fire investigation could be evaluated against. When an investigator found themselves in court they would talk about their years of experience which qualifies them as an expert. Those years of experience are important and valuable when conducting investigations but that experience cannot be solely utilized for making determinations. When in court and investigators would discuss how they made their determination they would discuss how they eliminated all other possible means, which they believed to make their conclusion true. Some investigators were reluctant to utilize this new method and felt that if they ignored NFPA 921, it would go away. Quite the contrary occurred, NFPA became the standard in which the legal system evaluated the quality of expert witnesses. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit applied Daubert and excluded the testimony of a fire investigator in the Benfield case (Michigan Miller’s Mutual Insurance

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