Indiana man's arson case thrown out - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

13 Investigates

Indiana man's arson case thrown out

Rob Montgomery Rob Montgomery
Prosecutor Aaron Negangard Prosecutor Aaron Negangard
Montgomery's attorney says at least a dozen of the photos withheld would prove the fire was not arson. Montgomery's attorney says at least a dozen of the photos withheld would prove the fire was not arson.

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Ohio County - After eight years, a stint in prison and two set trials, an Indiana man who says he was wrongly accused is now free and clear of arson.

13 Investigates first uncovered the case of "Burning Injustice"  last month. Instead of trying the case, an Ohio County judge threw it out Tuesday.

Eight years and a day before he was to face another jury, the arson case against Robin Montgomery was tossed out for good.

An Indiana Appeals Court had ordered the new trial in 2004, citing circumstantial evidence and a lack of expert testimony. Montgomery had already spent more than a year in prison.
"To me it was more of a shock than anything," Montgomery said.

Now on the heels of a 13 Investigates report on the lack of scientific evidence, an Ohio County judge blames the prosecutor for "tardy compliance" in turning over important evidence - 200 fire scene photos withheld for four years.  

"This one doesn't add up," said Dr. Gerald Hurst, a nationally renown scientist who has freed death row inmates on arson charges. Hurst reviewed Montgomery's case and says the state did a poor job handling the investigation.

"There's a lot of evidence that indicates it started at the chest of drawers on the west wall. You have an explanation for it because you had a lamp there that had its cord run over by a vacuum cleaner," said Hurst.

The case against Montgomery began in 2000 when his former live-in girlfriend accused him of arson, but she admits running over the cord the day of the fire. 

The state fire investigator never examined it. Even the insurance company investigator said he couldn't rule it out.

"He should have went in there and investigated the fire. That's what his job was. He did not do that," said Montgomery.

Part of the problem is the state of Indiana does not embrace or enforce the new fire investigation standards, known as NFPA 921. They were developed by a national committee of experts who say too many untested "old wives tales" are used instead of scientific fact.

"It's not taught. It's a book you buy from NFPA - National Fire Protection Association and it's a guideline," said Bob Dean, former chief Indiana state fire marshal.
"The importance of these guidelines was not as widely recognized as it is now being recognized," said Aaron Negangard, Ohio County prosecutor.

But until state lawmakers demand a consistent standard, Indiana opens itself up to charges of burning injustice.  

Rob Montgomery is suing his insurance company for "breach of contract" for failing to cover damages to his home. His attorney, Merritt Alcorn, who has been silent until now, says at least a dozen of the photos withheld would prove the fire was not arson.

Prosecutor Negangard did not comment.

Burning Injustice - Read the original story.

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