Lessons from the Wrongfully Convicted
If you’ve been wrongfully convicted of a crime, you can learn a few lessons and take hope from the following story.
In February 1996, Kristine Bunch of Decatur County, Indiana, was convicted of arson and felony murder after a fire in her mobile home claimed the life of her 3-year old son.
A State arson investigator testified that the fire had started in two places and that Bunch had used a liquid accelerant such as kerosene lighter fluid to start both fires. A forensic analyst with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) corroborated the State investigator’s testimony. He noted that “a heavy petroleum distillate” was present in floor samples taken from both the living room where the fire started and from the bedroom where the child died.
A judge sentenced Bunch to concurrent prison terms of 60 years for murder and 50 years for arson. Bunch would spend the next 17-years fighting the convictions from prison.
Bunch’s lawyers eventually learned that, contrary to the ATF analyst’s testimony, the investigators had not found heavy petroleum distillate in the bedroom, nor anywhere in the trailer. Instead, they had only found kerosene, which could have reasonably spilled from the kerosene heater that the family had used during the winter months.
The lawyers argued that his evidence entitled Bunch to a new trial, claiming that the ATF had violated her rights by withholding this critical information. They also argued that fire science developments constituted new evidence of her innocence.
The trial court denied relief for Bunch in 2010, but two years later, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the conviction and held that Bunch was entitled to a new trial. Despite the State’s appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to disturb the Court of Appeals’ decision.
A month later, Kristine Bunch walked free from prison. A few months later, the State dropped the charges against her.
What should a person who has been wrongfully convicted take from this experience?
- Don’t Be Afraid to Fight
Yes, fighting wrongful charges takes an enormous amount of energy and even more patience, but it can pay off. Bunch waited 17-long years for justice, but she is now free and living with her family. A skilled and dedicated criminal defense lawyer can help this dream become your reality.
- Use your time in prison well.
It is tempting to want to give up when you’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime. Bunch used her time to earn two undergraduate degrees in prison, one in anthropology, the other in English from Ball State University. Her efforts to improve herself despite her situation may well have reinforced her credibility and played a role in the State dropping the charges.
- You might be compensated for your wrongful conviction
As of 2019, Indiana law provides exonerated people who are “actually innocent” with up to $50,000 in compensation for each year of wrongful imprisonment in exchange for their agreement not to sue the State. This law helps compensate exonerated people for the years they lost in prison, enables them to better reintegrate into society, and helps them feel a sense of justice. Bunch has applied for this program and may be entitled to up to 850,000 for the time she was imprisoned.
If you believe you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, don’t hesitate to contact the criminal defense lawyers of Razumich & Associates as soon as possible. We stand ready to fight for your rights.