Woman wrongly convicted of arson and murder lectures IU law students

Kristine Bunch addressed students at IU's McKinney School of Law Friday, June 6, 2014
The atrium at the IU McKinney School of Law echoed with applause as Kristine Bunch took to the podium.

In law circles, she's known as "Bunch v. State of Indiana." At the law school Friday, aspiring legal minds got to know her as Krissy, the young single mother who took on the State and won her freedom after sitting behind bars for almost 17 years. She was convicted of setting a fire that killed her 3-year-old son in 1995.

"This just can't ever happen again," she told the audience.

Kristine Bunch's case took a turn in 2012 after attorneys at the Innocence Project at Northwestern University uncovered a troubling ATF report that ultimately led to her freedom. That report revealed Indiana State Fire Marshal investigators got it wrong. They accused Kristine of pouring an accelerant on the floor and setting her mobile home on fire. The problem: ATF found no evidence of an accelerant.

That report was kept secret by investigators. Not even the prosecutors on Kristine's case knew about it.

She works to keep bitterness at bay and lives to honor the sacrifices of the attorneys who fought for her without receiving pay.

"It would just be wrong to be angry and mad all the time. I was given a great gift and I know many people don't get it," she said explaining her approach.

She admits she has lost a lot but what she hasn't lost is a testament to her faith.

"Of course I have faith in the system. Of course I believe in our system. It was set up to do the right thing. The problem is it's run by people, and people make mistakes," she said.

It's why she's turned her focus to innocence projects in Illinois and to law students who can help alleviate mistakes in the future.

"I want them to walk away with the knowledge that they have the power to change somebody's life," she said overcome with emotion.

There are still many ups and downs of being one of the nation's newest exonerees. Simple trips to the grocery can be overwhelming for the 40-year-old but she's making it, living in the Chicago area on her own and hoping to go to law school herself in the near future.

Talking about what she endured as a prisoner gives her experience purpose.

When 13 Investigates asked if she could have ever imagined herself doing something like this, Bunch responded, "No!" and started laughing, shaking her head at the thought of lecturing law students.

"I'm going to keep talking because I feel like it's important. It has merit and the more people you touch and share with, the bigger change you can make."

Kristine Bunch has filed a lawsuit against the State Fire Marshal Investigators and the ATF agent who handled the evidence in her case. It's just one more way she hopes the people of Indiana will understand the impact of a wrongful conviction.