DA to retry Central Texas man in deadly '86 fire

AP News
Posted: May 17, 2013 5:45 PM

WACO, Texas (AP) — Prosecutors plan to retry a Central Texas man whose 25-year-old conviction for setting a fire that killed his two young stepsons was set aside due to issues raised later with the science used to find him guilty.

Ed Graf's murder conviction was set aside in March by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. His case is one of several flagged by a state panel that's examining possible problems with arson investigations in criminal cases.

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said Friday that he intended to pursue another trial against Graf. Reyna said prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.

"Over twenty-six years ago, the lives of two little boys were tragically ended," Reyna said in a statement. "Changes in fire science caused Ed Graf's case to come back to McLennan County. It is my honor to continue to seek justice for the boys."

A judge set bond at $1.5 million. Walter Reaves, Graf's attorney, said that amount was too high for Graf's family to pay, and that he would likely remain in jail pending trial.

Graf was convicted of setting a 1986 fire in a Hewitt backyard shed that killed 9-year-old Joby Graf and 8-year-old Jason Graf. He was accused of locking the boys in the shed and lighting it on fire.

Investigators at the time who examined photos of the shed determined that charring was deepest near the shed entrance and on the doors. They said the charring and other patterns suggested a quick fire sparked by an accelerant like lighter fluid.

But experts who have since reviewed their work, including one hired by prosecutors, say they believe those earlier conclusions were mistaken, and that there is a significant possibility that the fire was an accident.

Prosecutors supported Reaves' request for a new trial, but have maintained that they believe there is enough other evidence to win a conviction. Graf's ex-wife, Clare Bradburn, has also maintained her belief that Graf killed her children.

Among that evidence, Bradburn has said, is what she described as his suspicious behavior before and after the blaze. She also questions why he took out life insurance policies on the boys months beforehand.

"When you have the truth on your side, when you have memories of specific things, words that were said, pictures in my mind that will never go away — it's an imprint on my heart," Bradburn said in an earlier interview.

Reaves said Friday he was disappointed Graf would likely have to wait in jail while the case was retried.

"I don't think they have any evidence at all. I really thought we would be done with it by now," he said.

A panel convened by the state fire marshal is examining Graf's case and others in which questions have been raised about the underlying fire investigation science. Criminal justice advocates in Texas have long called for more examination of fire science, particularly following the controversial 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana for the deaths of his three daughters in a fire. Willingham's conviction was questioned by many legal advocates and fire experts.