Charges dismissed against Indiana mom in son's 1995 arson death

Kristine Bunch
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After 16 years in prison, accused of setting the deadly fire that killed her three-year-old son, only one thing could have topped the indescribable moment Kristine Bunch walked free to face a new trial back in August.

"I don't know I haven't really processed it yet," said Bunch through tears that day.

Now a week before Christmas, she is getting her wish, at least in part.

The Decatur County Prosecutor is dismissing the 1995 arson and murder case against her, but not necessarily for good, saying: "...additional time is needed. The State may elect to present the available evidence, along with the Defense theory to a Grand Jury at a later date."

"She's relieved. She's glad that the case no longer exists. She is exhausted by all of this," said Kristine's attorney Ron Safer, who spoke with 13 Investigates from his Chicago law firm. Safer says the state needs to own up to its mistake.

But the prosecutor says the investigation will remain open as they look for witnesses.

"They are looking for something that doesn't exist. They're looking for proof that Kristine committed a crime. No crime was committed. This is an accidental fire. The world's experts have analyzed the data in this case," said Safer, who questioned the state's position.

The Appeals Court granted Bunch a new trial based on expert testimony that determined there was no evidence of arson and questioned some of the same investigative techniques 13 Investigates exposed back in 2008 in its Burning Injustice reports.

"The prosecutor should understand that the public will applaud them for doing the right thing. The people don't look to prosecutors just for convictions. They look for justice," said Safer.

Kristine's attorney says the state faces an uphill battle because the nation now knows so much more about the science of fire.

Bunch has told Eyewitness News she would like to become a lawyer so she can help others in the way that she was helped.

Joint statement from Schiff Hardin LLP and the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions:

"We are extremely happy that the State has dismissed the charge against Kristine. She is innocent. As the Indiana Appellate Court ruled months ago, a jury hearing all of the evidence likely would have found Kristine not guilty.

We do not condemn the State for bringing arson-related charges in 1995. That was the equivalent of the Stone Ages for arson investigations. Today we know so much more about the science of fire. As the new evidence offered by world-renowned experts showed, Kristine could not have set this fire as the State contended. The fire was accidental.

Prosecutors who recognize and act on advances in science, like the revolutionary advances in fire investigations or DNA evidence, should be praised. The public expects and is entitled to justice, not convictions that are wrongful. Those who stubbornly persist in obtaining convictions in the face of powerful new evidence abuse their power and bring shame and dishonor on their office as well as the community they are supposed to serve.

Kristine lost her precious son Tony in this accidental fire. She then lost 16 years of her freedom. The depth of that tragedy is unthinkable. Today is the first day she can begin to heal."

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Exclusive: Kristine Bunch speaks to Eyewitness News