A local woman charged with arson and the death of her 3-year-old son was cleared of the charges against her Tuesday.
Kristine Bunch was previously convicted of the charges in 1995 and has spent the past 16 years in prison. Prosecutors claimed 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. Bunch’s son had 80 percent carbon monoxide level in his blood.
In March 2012, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted Bunch a new trial and allowed a vacated conviction. Her attorney, Ron Safer, argued arson science is drastically different than it was in 1995. He stated 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 argued there were errors committed by Bunch’s trial counsel.
Bunch’s attorneys and the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions released the following statement Tuesday:
“We are extremely happy that the State has dismissed the charge against Kristine. She is innocent. As the Indiana Appellate Court ruled months ago, a jury hearing all of the evidence likely would have found Kristine not guilty.
We do not condemn the State for bringing arson-related charges in 1995. That was the equivalent of the Stone Ages for arson investigations. Today we know so much more about the science of fire. As the new evidence offered by world-renowned experts showed, Kristine could not have set this fire as the State contended. The fire was accidental.
Prosecutors who recognize and act on advances in science, like the revolutionary advances in fire investigations or DNA evidence, should be praised. The public expects and is entitled to justice, not convictions that are wrongful. Those who stubbornly persist in obtaining convictions in the face of powerful new evidence abuse their power and bring shame and dishonor on their office as well as the community they are supposed to serve.
Kristine lost her precious son Tony in this accidental fire. She then lost 16 years of her freedom. The depth of that tragedy is unthinkable. Today is the first day she can begin to heal.”