The Arson Files: Judge May Recommend New Trial for Ed Graf Thursday

Dave Mann

On Thursday morning in a Waco courtroom, a state judge may recommend a new trial for Ed Graf, who has served nearly 25 years of a life sentence for an arson he claims he didn’t commit.

Graf was convicted in 1988 for allegedly starting the fire that killed his two stepsons. The evidence of arson in the case is now widely seen by forensic experts as junk science. I reported on the Graf case in detail in 2009 as part of a series investigating flawed arson cases (read the Observer’s original story here). Three nationally known fire scientists have examined the evidence in the case and concluded the fire at Graf’s house was accidental.

On Jan. 11, fire scientist Doug Carpenter testified at a hearing reexamining the case. Carpenter eviscerated the physical evidence that convicted Graf and offered compelling testimony that the fire was accidental. (You can read the Observer’s full account of the hearing here.) Alex Bell, the McLennan County assistant district attorney assigned to cross-examine Carpenter, struggled to poke any holes in the testimony. In fact, prosecutors aren’t disputing that much of the original arson evidence in the case is problematic.

As one expert told me back in 1999, the arson evidence in the Graf case is as bad, if not worse, than the flawed evidence in the infamous Cameron Todd Willingham case.

Graf’s attorney, Walter Reaves, said he’s optimistic that Judge George Allen will recommend a new trial for Graf at Thursday morning’s hearing.  That recommendation would then go before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which would decide Graf’s fate.

At least a half dozen arson cases, including Graf’s, are being reexamined by the Innocence Project of Texas and Texas Fire Marshal’s office. They will give an update on their arson review project to the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Friday.

You can read the Observer’s four-part series on flawed arson convictions, including our examination of the Graf case, here.

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Dave Mann is a former editor of the Observer.

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