Indiana woman wrongly accused of arson, murder files suit

Kristine Bunch is filing a lawsuit against two fire investigators and an ATF agent.
Published: .
Updated: .

An Indiana woman wrongfully convicted of arson and murder is fighting back.

13 Investigates has exclusive details of why Kristine Bunch says state fire investigators and the ATF should pay for the 16 years she spent behind bars.

Bunch won her freedom in August 2012 after hidden evidence in her case resurfaced. It's since led to a mother's disturbing allegations of burning injustice.

It's been a year-and-a-half since Bunch fell into the arms of her mother, sobbing over new found freedom. For 16 years, she sat locked in prison convicted of setting a fire that killed her three-year-old son Tony in 1995.

"It's been a struggle," Bunch said Thursday afternoon from Chicago.

She is now fighting back with a 13-page lawsuit alleging "unlawful, intentional, and reckless" actions by two Indiana State Fire Marshals and an ATF agent.

"It's important for me because I lost 16 years," she said of the lawsuit.

According to the filing in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana, former State Fire Marshal investigators Bryan Frank and James Skaggs "fabricated evidence" against her.

Attorneys say the duo got help from ATF Investigator William Kinard, who conducted testing to determine if accelerants were used.

"Working together with Kinard...Skaggs and Frank caused Kinard's report to be altered so that it falsely stated that accelerants were found in exhibits 6 and 8," read the lawsuit. "In accordance with this corrupt joint action, Kinard agreed to alter his report to state that accelerants were found...and concocted an 'official' report."

In March 2012, the Indiana Court of Appeals tossed out Kristine Bunch's conviction, saying Kinard's initial report that showed no accelerants had been hidden. Now, Kristine's attorneys say the ATF should have to pay her $17 million and the former investigators an undetermined amount.

Kristine's new life is miles away from Decatur County. She's working as an administrative assistant to the chaplain at Northwestern University.

Reached by Skype, she told 13 Investigates there are some things no amount of money can replace.

"You walk out, you have no job history. Your family has moved on. I mean, my son is closer to my mother than he is me," she said of the son she gave birth to months after she went to prison.

"I can't come out 16 years later and treat him like he's my little boy, because he's not. He's almost grown," she said. "It's hard and everyday is a struggle. I can't go back and get what I lost."

A hearing regarding the lawsuit against the ATF is set for June. Federal law does not allow Bunch to sue Kinard directly. Based on ATF reports, it is believed the fire was accidental and started by faulty electrical wiring.