Greensburg woman convicted in son's death freed - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Greensburg woman convicted in son's death freed

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Kristine Bunch leaves the courtroom. Kristine Bunch leaves the courtroom.
Bunch's mother and son wait to see her. Bunch's mother and son wait to see her.
Kristine Bunch shortly after her release Kristine Bunch shortly after her release
GREENSBURG -

Kristine Bunch dreamed of the day she could breathe free air once again. Wednesday evening, hours after her release, she did exactly that.

In a 13 Investigates exclusive, she shared her deepest emotions about being released from prison during a stroll through the Decatur County park.

"I was blessed in a huge way," she explained.  "It's incredible, incredible. I want to take my shoes off and go running and stick my feet in the water and do everything I haven't been able to do," she confided, as she looked out onto a small lake near the park.

Hours earlier, with her prison garb stuffed in a bag, Kristine walked out of jail a free woman, out on bond for the first time in 16 years.

Sobbing, she went straight into the arms of her mother who stood by her, and the son she gave birth to in 1996, just months after a jury convicted her of setting the fire that killed her 3-year old son Tony.

Weeks ago, the Indiana Court of Appeals tossed out that conviction as if it never happened.  
     
"Indescribable. I don't really know, I haven't really processed it yet," said Kristine through smiles and tears.

"It's a day that we've waited for and it's here," said Kristine's mother Susan Hubbard. Kristine will be living with her mom in Columbus. 

At the top of her list: taking flowers to the grave site of the son she lost, and becoming a full-time mother to the son who has only known her from behind prison walls.

"I can't wait to watch him go to sleep, and see him wake up and fix him breakfast before he goes to school. I can't wait to take him to Tony's grave and spend time with both of my kids because I haven't had that," Kristine said choking back tears. "I just want to sit and talk to him and make up for all the times I didn't get to go and put flowers out there," she said, remembering the little Tony who firefighters found between a bed and a wall.

Kristine is preparing for a new trial now, one with evidence that says there was no accelerant, and the fire that killed Tony likely started in the ceiling of her mobile home.

She's also integrating into a world that has changed drastically. 

"It's scary and it's intimidating," Kristine admitted. "I've never texted. I've never Googled, so there's a lot to catch up on," she said.

Never a bitter word though about what she's lost. Only gratitude and reminders to believe.  

"I don't know, it's mind blowing to think that tomorrow morning I can get up and go put my toes in the grass and have a cup of coffee and nobody's going to say it's count time," Kristine said, referring to a common prison practice of counting offenders to make sure no one has escaped.

The appeals fight for Kristine Bunch started with local attorney Hillary Bowe Ricks and is now headed by Chicago attorney Ron Safer and the Northwestern University Center for Wrongful Conviction.

Kristine Bunch says her ultimate goal is to become an attorney, and to give the kind of help she has received to others.

EARLIER STORY:

The Indiana mother who says she was wrongfully convicted of setting a 1995 fire that killed her three-year-old son is out of prison now after serving 16 years. Thirty-eight-year-old Kristine Bunch's conviction was overturned after experts found new evidence that suggests the fire was not deliberately set.

Wednesday afternoon, Bunch walked out to hugs from family, including her mother and 16-year-old son, who was just a baby when she was jailed.

Bunch was convicted of setting a fire in 1996 that killed her son. But her attorneys argue that the state used faulty evidence to convict her.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in March that prosecutors should have provided Bunch's defense with a lab report that allegedly found no trace of kerosene in her son's bedroom. The state Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for Bunch on murder and arson charges. Eyewitness News interviewed Bunch shortly after her release Wednesday as well as for an interview last year.

One year ago, almost to the very day, Kristine Bunch allowed us into her world - not just into life behind prison walls but into her captive thoughts of one day being set free.

"To get a new trial, that would mean that my truth will be heard. The real evidence will be heard and I believe a different outcome will come about," she told us last year.

Kristine Bunch's journey began in 1996. She was convicted of setting the fire at her Greensburg mobile home a year earlier that killed her three-year-old son Tony.

"I just kept on saying that I didn't," she said.

Staring down a 60-year sentence for murder and arson, she fought against insurmountable odds, frustration and anger.

"At first, just hurt. I mean horrible, horrible pain because nobody except my closest family believed me," said Bunch.

Also, in 2003, working in the prison law library, Bunch came across the Texas arson case of Todd Willingham, a man put to death for a deadly fire based on questionable arson investigation techniques.

13 Investigates found the same techniques used in arson cases in Indiana in 2008. Experts warned then that innocent people were getting convicted.

"We started looking at our own guidelines. We started realizing they're not only woefully inadequate, they were woefully wrong," said Dan Churchward, co-author of new arson standards.

Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law took up the appeal for Kristine Bunch last year. In March, the Court of Appeals overturned her conviction and granted a new trial. The state of Indiana wanted to appeal, but was turned away by the State Supreme Court.

Now armed with new evidence from world-renowned experts who found no accelerants and say Tony likely died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a suspected ceiling fire, Kristine Bunch is gaining her freedom after 16 years in prison.

"We need to let people know this happens. We're not the only ones. There have been other cases. There still are other cases," she said.

A Decatur County judge set bail for Bunch at $5,000 cash Wednesday. Bunch was released shortly after 3:00 pm.

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