The Waco Tribune reports on the case of Ed Graf, "Judge's OK puts Graf 1 step closer to new trial in murder," written by Cindy V. Culp.
A Waco judge is recommending a Hewitt man convicted 25 years ago of burning his stepsons alive be given a new trial, but stopped short of saying he should be declared innocent.
The final say about Ed Graf’s fate will come from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. It can adopt the recommendation announced Thursday by retired State District Judge George Allen. It also could rule that Graf must continue to serve his life sentence, or alternately, find him innocent and order his release.
But even if a new trial is ordered, it is possible Graf could go free without having to defend himself in court a second time.
A decision about whether to re-try the arson murder case would be up to McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, who did not commit to a specific course of action at Thursday’s hearing.
Reyna said his office will “investigate and reinvestigate” the case “from square one.” He noted that he was not district attorney at the time of the 1986 fire that killed Graf’s stepsons or during Graf’s 1988 trial.
During Thursday’s hearing, Reyna’s office told the judge it supports the idea of Graf getting a new trial because of advances in fire science that have occurred in recent years. Some of the evidence used against him was unquestionably flawed, prosecutor Alex Bell said.
But Bell said the district attorney’s office could not support a recommendation to the appeals court saying Graf is innocent because of other evidence in the case. It included Graf buying life insurance policies on the boys shortly before their deaths and his behavior before and after the fire, which family members characterized as suspicious.
“There is still strong circumstantial evidence that Mr. Graf did commit this crime and cause the deaths of these two children,” Bell said.
Graf’s attorney, Walter M. Reaves Jr. of Waco, dismissed the importance of the circumstantial evidence. If Graf is given a new trial, he said, he is confident the case will either be dismissed for lack of evidence or that jurors will find his client not guilty.
"Arson Reviewers Expect Small Number of Problem Cases," is the Texas Tribune report by Maurice Chammah.
At the height of the controversy surrounding the fire investigation that led to the arson murder conviction and death sentence of Cameron Todd Willingham, Dr. Gerald Hurst, one of the country's pre-eminent fire investigators, told a reporter for ABC News, "The Willingham case is like a hundred other cases I've seen, except that they executed him. The others are rotting away in prison."
But attorneys with the Innocence Project of Texas, who have been conducting a massive review of arson convictions in Texas, told the Texas Forensic Science Commission at its meeting Friday that the number of cases in which arson investigations may have led to wrongful convictions will turn out to be quite small. Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, said he expects the final number of cases that are sent for review to the state fire marshal to be six to eight.
Although many of the cases that may be sent for additional review are not yet public, one is currently in court. Today, McLennan County state district Judge George Allen ruled that Ed Graf, whose arson conviction is being studied by the project, is entitled to a new trial. Graf, who is now 60 years old, was convicted in 1988 of locking his two young stepsons in a storage shed at their home outside of Waco and setting it on fire, killing the boys. A prosecutor in the case has said that the fire science used in the original investigation was questionable, but he added that the McLennan County district attorney's office is not convinced that Graf is innocent because of other evidence in the case. A final determination of whether Graf is entitled to a new trial will be made by the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Vilbas said that of 33 cases the Innocence Project selected for intensive screening, 18 have been initially analyzed and only two of those will go on to be reviewed by a panel of fire experts, set up by Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. The rest of the cases, 15 in all, will be studied in the coming months.
“There are only a handful of convictions that are really in question,” said Mike Ware, another attorney with the Innocence Project.
Earlier coverage of the Texas arson case review begins at the link.