Indiana Supreme Court today denied state's petition to transfer the case
August 8, 2012
A team led by Schiff Hardin LLP's Managing Partner, Ronald S. Safer, along with Jane E. Raley and Karen L. Daniel of Northwestern's Center on Wrongful Convictions, assisted by Jon Laramore of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, obtained post-conviction relief in the form of a new trial for pro bono client Kristine Bunch of Decatur County, Ind., who has served 16 years in prison for a glaringly wrongful murder conviction. The Indiana Supreme Court today denied the State's Petition to Transfer, leaving intact the Indiana Court of Appeals' earlier ruling that overturned the lower court’s denial of post-conviction relief, allowing Ms. Bunch a new trial and a vacated conviction.
Mr. Safer said, "We are delighted that the highest Court in Indiana recognized the injustice of pursuing this case. We hope that the Prosecuting Attorney for Decatur County will not waste the people's scarce resources pursuing this wrongful prosecution. If he does, we will leave no doubt that Kristine is innocent."
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Ms. Bunch's conviction stating, "We conclude the fire victim toxicology evidence does constitute newly-discovered evidence and the post-conviction court clearly erred in denying Bunch relief on this claim. We also conclude the State's failure to turn over a report from the ATF testing of floor samples violates Brady and the post-conviction court also clearly erred in denying Bunch relief on this claim. Because either of these two errors warrants a new trial, we need not address the remaining issues. We reverse and remand for a new trial." The Indiana Supreme Court on August 8, 2012, declined to disturb this opinion.
"We will seek Kristine's immediate release. The end of this long nightmare for her is in sight," added Mr. Safer.
Ms. Bunch's legal team also includes Kelly M. Warner of Schiff Hardin LLP (Chicago), Jon Laramore of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP (Indianapolis), Hilary Bowe Ricks (Indianapolis), and Jane E. Raley and Karen L. Daniel of the Center on Wrongful Convictions/Bluhm Legal Clinic/Northwestern University School of Law (Chicago).
A timeline of events leading to today's decision is as follows:
1996 – A Decatur County jury convicted Ms. Bunch of murdering her three-year-old son who died when their mobile home burned.
2006 – Ms. Bunch filed a petition seeking the post-conviction relief of a new trial, presenting evidence that showed – without question and on several different grounds – that her conviction was in error.
2010 – The trial court denied Ms. Bunch's request for a new trial, ignoring overwhelming evidence proving her innocence.
2011 – Ms. Bunch appealed the trial court's denial of post-conviction relief.
March 21, 2012 –The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's ruling, granting Ms. Bunch a new trial.
August 8, 2012 – The Indiana Supreme Court denied the state's petition to transfer the case.
"Kristine’s case bears eerie similarities to one that occurred in Texas in the early nineties involving a man named Todd Willingham," noted Mr. Safer. "Mr. Willingham’s children died in a fire for which he was convicted of murder and arson, and he unfortunately was executed in prison before advances in fire science proved he could not have set the fire. We are grateful it did not come to that in Kristine’s case, and that she has the chance to right this terrible wrong."
In addition to his representation of Ms. Bunch, Mr. Safer also is widely known for his representation of Julie Rea Harper, who was acquitted in 2006 after previously being wrongfully convicted of murdering her young son, and who was fully exonerated by the State of Illinois in 2010.