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Kristine BUNCH





Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Parricide - Arson
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: June 30, 1995
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: 1974
Victim profile: Her 4-year-old son Tony
Method of murder: Smoke inhalation (kerosene)
Location: Decatur County, Indiana, USA
Status: The jury convicted her on both arson and murder charges in 1996, and she initially received 50 years for the arson and 60 years for the murder, though the trial judge merged the two at sentencing. The Indiana Court of Appeals allowed Kristine Bunch to go to trial again and allowed a vacated conviction on March 20, 2012

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana

Kristine Bunch v. State of Indiana

Greensburg woman jailed in son's death closer to freedom

By Sandra Chapman -

March 22, 2012

Indinapolis - An innocent woman may be behind bars. Defense attorneys believe Kristine Bunch deserves a new trial.

Bunch already won an appeal claiming the evidence was flawed in the arson case that sent her to prison.

Now state prosecutors are seeking a review from the State Supreme Court.

Sixteen years behind bars as inmate number 966069, Kristine Bunch has never been closer to freedom. She sat down with 13 Investigates for an exclusive interview weeks after her attorneys made her appeal last August.

"It's hard when you're convicted, to still keep saying ,'But I didn't.' It's like you don't think anyone's going to believe that," she told 13 Investigates from the Indiana Women's Prison.

Wednesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled her 1996 arson and murder conviction for the mobile home fire that killed her three-year-old son Tony should be tossed out, and that Bunch should get a new trial.

In its ruling, the appeals court said new evidence that suggests the fire started in the ceiling should be heard. The court also says the State withheld a test report from the ATF.

It's news she's wanted for years.

"You teeter between hope, excitement, anger, fear," Bunch said, describing her emotions over the years.

In a statement the Indiana Attorney General's office says:

"The State respectfully disagrees with the majority's opinion and largely agrees with the dissenting opinion's analysis of the issues. In the State's view, Bunch is not entitled to a new trial. The State is carefully examining the lengthy opinion in order to determine whether to ask the Court of Appeals to rehear the case, or to seek further review in the Indiana Supreme Court. The State has 30 days to file a petition for rehearing or transfer."

Now, 13 Investigates has learned state prosecutors are calling for a review of that decision by the Indiana Supreme Court.

"We've been talking with the Attorney General's office about requesting transfer to the State Supreme Court," said Decatur County Prosecutor Jim Rosenberry, who added that his office "made it clear that we would like to do that. They're just getting all the details at this point."

Neighbors now living in the same mobile home park where Kristine Bunch once lived say justice has always been about money.

"A lot of time it's about money. Whether they have money for a good enough attorney and they keep sitting there waiting for mercy," said Sean Smith.

Attorneys working with the Northwestern University Center for Wrongful Conviction have spent countless hours free of charge, pushing for a new trial.

"It's indescribable. I never thought anyone would step up to help me, and now I have more lawyers than I can name and more investigators. People that I've never ever met," Bunch told 13 Investigates.

The Indiana Attorney General's office has 30 days to ask for a rehearing by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, or to transfer the case back to Decatur County for re-trial.

If Decatur County declines to prosecute, Bunch will be set free and the case will be dismissed.

Case background

Investigators said the fire was deliberately set. They found burn patterns and evidence of an accelerant.

But attorneys for Kristine Bunch and Northwestern University's Center for Wrongful Conviction argued the evidence is based on outdated fire investigation techniques.

13 Investigates first uncovered problems with arson cases in 2008 based on what experts now call "junk science."

In its ruling, the Indiana Court of Appeals cited new reports showing Tony died from high levels of carbon monoxide, suggesting the fire started in the ceiling.

The court also found the State violated rules by not turning over burn tests from the ATF.


Woman convicted in 1996 arson, murder of son gets new trial

The Indiana Court of Appeals allowed Kristine Bunch to go to trial again and allowed a vacated conviction

March 21, 2012

A woman convicted of arson and the murder of her 3-year-old son in 1996 was granted a new trial Wednesday.

The Indiana Court of Appeals allowed Kristine Bunch to go to trial again and allowed a vacated conviction.

Kristine Bunch has spent the past 16 years in prison following her conviction.  Her attorney, Ron Safer, argued before the Indiana Court of Appeals in July 2011, claiming arson science is drastically different than it was in 1996.

Prosecutors said Bunch poured kerosene through the linoleum-floored bedroom in which her son, Tony, was found and into the living room of the trailer before lighting a match. Tony had 80 percent carbon monoxide level in his blood.

Safer argued there was overwhelming evidence that proves Bunch could not have set the fire.  The attorney said the evidence includes advances in the field of fire victim toxicology, which allegedly proves the fire could not have been set in the way prosecutors argued it did.  Additionally, Safer argues there were errors committed by Bunch’s trial counsel. 

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling, and we will continue to vigorously defend Kristine to ensure that we right this terrible injustice,” said Safer in a news release statement. “We will not rest until Kristine is back home where she belongs.”

Bunch was sentenced to serve 60 years in prison following her 1996 conviction. 

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General disagreed with the court’s ruling and does not believe Bunch should be given a new trial. 

Public Information Officer Bryan Corbin released the following statement Tuesday:

“The State respectfully disagrees with the majority’s opinion and largely agrees with the dissenting opinion’s analysis of the issues. In the State’s view, Bunch is not entitled to a new trial. The State is carefully examining the lengthy opinion in order to determine whether to ask the Court of Appeals to rehear the case, or to seek further review in the Indiana Supreme Court. The State has 30 days to file a petition for rehearing or transfer."


Mom Served 14 Years for Arson Now Called 'Impossible'

By Jay Schadler and Thomas Berman -

May 5, 2010

People who escape fatal fires with their lives may face a tangle of emotions: fear, regret, relief.

In many cases, they also face criminal charges.

"If you survive a fatal fire, you've got a very good chance of being charged with setting it," said John Lentini, one of the nation's leading fire experts.

If just 5 percent of the nation's half-a-million yearly structure fires are suspicious, Lentini said, then that means 25,000 chances to mistakenly charge someone with arson.

"And if they [prove a crime took place] with bad evidence, and the jury believes that it's a set fire, many times there is no doubt about who did it," he said.

Kristine Bunch was convicted by a jury in 1996 of setting a fire in her Indiana trailer that killed her 3-year-old son. She received concurrent sentences of 50 years for arson and 60 years for murder.

"This is a woman who has no prior criminal history ... no arrest record ... no psychiatric history," said Jane Raley, senior staff attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. "There was nothing here."

Raley is working to get Bunch, 36, a new trial. "There is no motive," Raley said. "Why would someone like Kristine do this?"

Lentini questioned the evidence against Bunch.

"I can turn just about any fire into an arson fire if that's what I want to do," he said.

Arson: Conducting a Fire Test

We brought Lentini to the Fire Science Program at Eastern Kentucky University, where technicians conduct fire tests in a bunker set up with rooms of ordinary furniture.

Fires are set in the bunker not with gasoline or other flammable liquids but with just a spark, as if from a burning cigarette.

"We are hoping to generate some of the artifacts that people in the past have called evidence of arson," Lentini said.

Among those whom Lentini counts as having believed misguided arson evidence in the past is ... John Lentini.

Twenty years ago, Lentini got a life-changing lesson in arson fires. Back then, he was convinced that a man named Gerald Lewis had killed his pregnant wife and four children by setting a fire with gasoline in Jacksonville, Fla.

"I was scheduled to be deposed the next morning for the prosecution," he recalled. "I was going to help them send Gerald Lewis to Old Sparky [the electric chair]."

But before he testified, Lentini had a chance to test Lewis' claim that the blaze began by accident when his couch caught on fire.

Arson: The 'Lime Street Fire Test'

Lentini's test is now commonly called the "Lime Street Fire Test." To Lentini's surprise, the fire in the test left behind the exact same signs as if it had been started with gasoline, even though none was used.

"It was an awakening," Lentini said.

Which is why Lentini is now driven to bring hard science into what traditionally has been seen as the "art" of fire investigation.

"I think when they said ... 'art,' I think what they meant was luck," Lentini said.

Back at Eastern Kentucky University, investigators began their fire experiments, with cameras and thermal imaging sensors recording every moment.

The tiny couch fire grew steadily as a layer of hot dense smoke formed on the ceiling. The sensors showed how hot it was. Temperatures reached about 1,200 degrees. Soon, blazing hot gas started to descend.

Just minutes after the fire was started, the hot gases suddenly ignited, and the room exploded.

This is a phenomenon known as "flashover."

"Flashover is a transition point where you go from having a fire in a room to a room on fire," Lentini said.

Arson: Burn Patterns and Points of Origin

But what you see after a fire has exploded into flashover is even more important to our story. Lentini guided us through the ruins after the fire was out.

"If you see a pattern on the couch, that looks like it's where it started," Lentini said. "'Cause there's a 'V' [a V-shaped burn pattern] over there, and there's a 'V' over here. You say, 'Well, that could be two points of origin.'"

The appearance of multiple points of origin in a fire has traditionally been regarded as "slam-dunk" evidence of arson, Lentini said.

It was such a slam-dunk that helped put Bunch in the slammer. During Bunch's trial, the prosecution used photos showing burn patterns as evidence of multiple places of origin.

"That is 100 percent inaccurate," said Raley, who is working for a new trial. "One hundred percent wrong. One hundred percent fiction."

When Bunch was convicted in 1996, Raley said, flashover and the science of arson were not well understood. Bunch has now served 14 years in prison and has no hope of parole for at least 12 years.

The prosecutor in Bunch's case declined our request for an on-camera interview, but he maintained that the jury made the right decision. He said that Bunch's behavior was questionable and that she made many contradictory statements during numerous police interviews. The jury made its decision on matters that go beyond the science alone, he said.

There wasn't much left of Bunch's trailer after fire swept through it, killing her son, Tony, 3, in June 1995. What was left, according to fire investigators at the time, was unmistakable evidence of arson.

"The arson conclusion was made within two hours of the investigators arriving at the trailer," Raley said. "The first investigators arrived around 8 o'clock in the morning. By 10 o'clock in the morning, there had already been a conclusion."

That conclusion was that Bunch had poured accelerant in her son's bedroom, touched off the fire and let him die. "I am never going to stop fighting, never going to stop trying to prove that I didn't do this," Bunch said.

Arson: 'Their Theory Is Impossible'

Prospects for a new trial for Bunch may depend on one woman, Jaime McAllister, an expert in the emerging field of combustion science. McAllister's opinion about the prosecution's original arson case can be summed up in four words.

"Their theory is impossible," she said.

An autopsy report on the little boy's body showed he died with 80 percent carbon monoxide in his blood. That's an impossibly high number, McCallister said, if the fire had been set in his room.

"You couldn't breathe in that amount of carbon monoxide and get to that level of 80 percent before you would die from the heat," McAllister said.

Tony Bunch was dead, she said, long before the flames got to him.

Basic science suggested the fire started in an unventilated place, like in the space between the ceiling and the roof, where there were electrical wires and a malfunctioning light, McAllister said.

A short in the wires could have overheated the ceiling tiles.

"As that smoldering occurs, it produces a lot of products, like soot and carbon monoxide," McAllister said. "And they would start to leak out in the room."

Arson: Wrongful Conviction?

In her theory, little Tony passed out from breathing carbon monoxide. The fire grew. Ceiling tiles broke down and fell. Fed by more oxygen, much thicker, hotter smoke billowed into the room.

"Very quickly, he is going to inhale those products, and he is going to die very quickly from those products," McAllister said.

For Bunch's lawyer, the new toxicology evidence leads to only one conclusion.

"The fire could not have started in the living room, it could not have started in the bedroom," Raley said. "So we know that the fire could not have happened the way the state claims... It just can't happen".

But if the fire did not happen as the prosecution claimed it happened, why wouldn't a new trial be guaranteed?

"Well," Raley said with a sigh, "it's always difficult to unravel a wrongful conviction."

Decatur County, Ind., prosecutor William Smith said he believes the "new" science was already rejected by the jury.

He said Raley just wants to substitute her expert's opinions for that of the jury.

The court ruling could come at any time. This first appeal is the least likely to succeed, said Raley, who vows that she is prepared to keep going to higher courts in an effort to get Bunch a new trial.


Aiming for exoneration

By Michael W. Hoskins -

September 2, 2009

Kristine M. Bunch has a dream of becoming a lawyer, to be a voice for women who don’t have one.

Before that can happen, though, she has to overcome an obstacle that stands in the way of not only a legal education but her very freedom. She has to prove her innocence and overturn an arson and felony murder conviction for a fatal fire that killed her 3-year-old son which led to her spending the past 13 years in prison.

The 35-year-old mother is serving a 60-year felony murder sentence, one she contends is the result of a wrongful conviction caused by faulty science used by fire investigators. An inmate at the Indiana State Women’s Prison on the eastside of Indianapolis, Bunch is offender No. 966069 and has achieved what her attorneys and prison officials describe as remarkable for anyone behind bars: she’s a degree-holding cosmetologist, mini-marathoner, service-dog trainer, and ministry volunteer, not to mention a certified paralegal and the first female inmate to ever take the LSAT.

While she’s proud of her accomplishments inside, those aren’t her main focus. Instead, she’s on a mission to prove she shouldn’t be behind bars in the first place. The odds aren’t in her favor. She’s a convicted felon and is no longer innocent until proven guilty; rather she’s guilty and must regain her innocence. But serving as a beacon before her, Bunch focuses on the fact that wrongful convictions are becoming more common, proven nationally as science evolves and flaws in the legal system become more apparent.

More than 230 people have been exonerated nationally, and Bunch hopes to add her name to that roster with the help of an Indianapolis attorney and Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Her post-conviction appeal in Decatur County articulates that the science used to determine the fire’s cause was faulty and that it’s a discredited method proving to be a significant factor in a growing number of wrongful conviction cases nationwide. The appeal represents the first Hoosier case to touch on this issue, and if she proves her innocence she has the potential to be an additional name on Indiana’s exoneration list.

“Kristine is a model prisoner who’s earned her college degree while in prison and is anxious to be released in order to gain custody of her other child and eventually attend law school,” said Illinois attorney and law professor Karen Daniel, who is representing Bunch on behalf of the center. “It’s important that her story be told.”

The fire

Her nightmare began June 30, 1995.

In the early morning, the then-21-year-old mother awoke to flames and smoke in her mother’s trailer home in Greensburg. Her 3-year-old son, Tony, had been asleep in another bedroom. In published letters recalling her memories, Bunch described running down the hallway through thick smoke to her son’s room, seeing him trapped inside where he stood on the bed and calling for his mom. She tried to throw a blanket on the fire but couldn’t get inside. She ran outside to find help but not before getting mild burns herself.

Six days later, Bunch was arrested and charged with both arson and felony murder. She pleaded not guilty and went through a jury trial in February 1996. Prosecutors initially sought life without parole, but the jury unanimously recommended against that penalty, and the trial court imposed the maximum of 60 years.

Looking back on the trial experience, Bunch said she was a naïve at the time. She was four months pregnant with her second son – now 13 – and was still grieving the loss of Tony and in a blur during the trial. The jury convicted her on both arson and murder charges, and she initially received 50 years for the arson and 60 years for the murder, though the trial judge merged the two at sentencing.

“I don’t know if my lawyer did a good job or not,” she said about her appointed trial attorney from Greensburg. “He told me that my best interests were at heart, and I trusted that. But I really don’t know what happened to say if that’s true or not. All I know is that I ended up in here.”

In appealing to the Indiana Supreme Court on direct appeal, Bunch said she had virtually no contact with her appointed appellate lawyer at the time. She received the brief in prison once it was filed. The lawyer also sent the June 9, 1998, appellate decision affirming her felony murder conviction and 60-year sentence. The court also remanded with direction to vacate the arson conviction because of double jeopardy – a person can’t be sentenced for both a felony murder and the underlying felony.

“After the appeal came back, I thought nothing else could be done,” she said. “That’s what I thought was the end.”

New hope

After years in prison, Bunch eventually learned about post-conviction relief and that reinvigorated her hope that more could be done. She contacted an author who’d written about wrongful convictions and female inmates before, and that resulted in Bunch sharing her story for the 2001 book, “Letters from Prison: Voices of Women Murderers.”

Researching post-conviction relief in the prison’s law library, Bunch learned she’d need to find her own attorney and fellow inmates connected her with Indianapolis attorney Hilary Bowe Ricks. She had to work three prison jobs to pay off the payment plan they reached, and now Ricks is working the case pro bono.

Through a prison pen pal, Bunch learned about the wrongful conviction clinic at Northwestern’s law school and faxed her trial transcripts to them to review. That was almost a year ago, and her attorneys filed a petition for PCR in Decatur Circuit Court in November. The non-profit Innocence Project based in New York has also gotten involved in the case. A post-conviction hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, and at that time her attorneys expect for the judge to consider the evidence and ultimately take the matter under advisement to determine whether any relief is warranted. 

Daniel said that Northwestern’s clinic has seen many arson cases in recent years where junk science has played a role, but to date this case is the first litigation initiated on the issue.

Ricks said she also hasn’t had any cases where this has come up, but she expects it to become more frequent.

“This is a very specialized knowledge, and there are many, many cases where they’ve found out now that, through better science, the previous science determining arson is faulty,” Ricks said. “One of the biggest things that struck me when reading the transcripts is that you just don’t jump to an arson conclusion within an hour … . You have to rule out everything else and then come to that decision. That wasn’t done here.”

In Bunch’s case, investigators relied on several factors such as blaze temperature and development speed, irregular burn patterns, low burning, and holes in the floor to determine the fire was likely an arson started in Tony’s bedroom. But advances now show many of those indicators are myths, her attorneys say.

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences issued a congressionally mandated report finding serious deficiencies in the nation’s forensic science system and called for major reforms. Part of that report says fire investigators have in many cases routinely relied on indicators that were common at the time but have since become outdated and discredited by scientific research. Bottom line: Fires once thought to be arsons are now being proven to be the result of some other factor.

The question that must be considered in Bunch’s case and any others raising this issue is whether this change in forensic science standards would have made a difference at trial. Bunch and her attorneys all believe the answer is yes.

“Only recently, I started believing that there’s a chance I could get out before I’m 50-something years old,” she said. “There’s a reason for hope.”

Offender No. 966069

Until that possible PCR arrives or her sentence runs out, Bunch lives in a complex with about 200 other women inmates, living in a military-barracks style room where each side has 22 women. Her Department of Correction number is as much a part of her identity as her given name.

She’s earned her general educational development diploma through tutoring, and earned an associate’s degree in cosmetology through Ball State University. Bunch helps boost the moods of her fellow inmates with hair or nail services. She also participates in a ministry through the prison, trains a 20-month-old Labradoodle named Monon to be a service dog for the disabled, and practices for a 13.1-mile prison-track mini-marathon in late September. Bunch also took an eight-month Blackstone course to get certified as a paralegal. In June she took the LSAT and became the first woman in the women’s prison to have ever done so.

“A lot of women in here don’t have a voice and can’t afford an attorney,” she said. “That’s the person I want to be: someone who can give them a voice."



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