Page 2


Center’ s findings. Sonia Cacy’ s conviction on arson-homicide charges is one such case. The 1993 prosecution of Cacy in Fort Stockton did not use the findings of the Bexar County lab simply to support or corroborate other evidence because there was none. As the Wall Street Journal reported a year ago, the forty-nine-yearold Fort Stockton woman was sentenced to ninety-nine years in a state prison in Gatesville based on the findings of the Bexar County lab and nothing else. There were no eyewitnesses other than Cacy on November 10, 1991, when she awoke to smoke and flames in the Fort Stockton home she shared with her seventy-six-year-old uncle, Bill Richardson. According to Cacy, she tried to wake her uncle, who was asleep in an adjoining room, but the flames were so intense she was forced out of the house. Firefighters arrived and found Cacy frantically trying to reenter the house through a broken window. She was taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. Several hours later, rescue workers retrieved the charred body of Bill Richardson from the smoldering wreckage. While Cacy herself was still in the hospital, police officers arrived with a warrant, and left with scrapings of Cacy’s fingernails and several vials of her blood. Richardson’s body, upon recommendation from the Pecos County District Attorney, was sent to the Bexar County Forensic Science Center for examination. The autopsy was performed by Medical Examiner Robert Bux. According to the autopsy report, Richardson’s lungs were not filled with smoke or soot, nor was there excessive carbon monoxide in his blood \(his carbon monoxide levels were about 11 percent, consistent with heavy smoking, while two dogs who died in the fire had carbon monoxide levels of about 40 percent was evidence of stenosis and arteriosclerosis, with up to 80 percent blockage of the left descending artery symptoms of a heart attack. Nowhere in the autopsy report is there any mention of soot in the trachea or larynx, and it appeared that Richardson was dead before the fire started. There was nothing in the autopsy report that suggested that Sonia Cacy had killed her uncle. In fact, much of the testimony at Cacy’s trial would suggest that Richardson himself was the most likely person to have set his house on fire. “They only mentioned three fires in the trial,” Cacy said in an interview at the prison. “But if you’re talking about my Uncle Bill you could mention fifty. He torched his own lease house about three years prior to that burnt it to the ground.” Richardson was a careless chain smoker who smoked several packs a day. Testimony described multiple cigarette burns on Richardson’s furniture. Frank Salvato, now the city manager of Llano, was then the Fort Stockton fire marshal and one of the first to arrive at the fire. He testified that he had been to the Richardson house three times in the month before the fatal fire, to investigate smaller fires. On one occasion, Salvato said in court, he saw Richardson light his furnace with a blowtorch. If the autopsy report provided no evidence that Bill Richardson had been the victim of foul play, and he was portrayed in court as a heavy smoker who was very careless with fire, what convicted Sonia Cacy? The case against her was based on tests performed on the clothing fragments removed from Richardson’s body during the autopsy. Using a process called GC-MS \(gas chromatography-mass concluded that there was evidence of gasoline on Richardson’s clothing remnants. Based on Castorena’s findings, Pecos County District Attorney Valadez convinced a jury that Sonia Cacy had doused her uncle with gasoline while he slept, then set him on fire and crawled out the window. But nothing else no motive, no witness, no history, not even the autopsy suggested that Cacy had killed her uncle. On the basis of Castorena’ s unconfirmed interpretation of a single scientific test, Cacy was sent to prison. To establish that there is gasoline residue on any given material, a forensic scientist reads a chart that looks like an EKG printout. From the chart produced by the analysis of the remains of Bill Richardson’s clothing, Castorena determined the results were positive. Not every forensic scientist would agree. “I’ve shown those charts to hundreds of students around the country as part of a train A Medical Examiner Robert Bux Matt Richardson ing exercise,” fire debris expert Richard Henderson said in an interview. “No one, including those at the F.B.I. academy, has ever found gasoline in that sample.” Henderson, a South Carolina chemist with twenty-five years of experience, is one of four fire debris experts reviewing the evidence used to convict Cacy. But Cacy didn’t have the advantage of Henderson’s testimony when she was tried in Fort Stockton. Nor did she have access to the pooled knowledge of more than twenty lawyers and scientists who have since volunteered their time over the past three years to work on her case. According to retired chemist Gerald Hurst, “Cacy was convicted by a combination of unrebutted junk science and suppressed exculpatory evidence…. Even a moderate amount of technical help would have blown away the most damaging allegation of the presence of gasoline.” Yet this technical information arrived too late. Had it been used to rebut and impeach the evidence and testimony provided by the AUGUST 28, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11