Michigan man convicted on 'junk science' is now free

Jul 3, 2013

He spent four years in prison after he was convicted in 2009 on an arson charge. But now he is free after a team of lawyers from the University of Michigan's Innocence Clinic proved he was wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Clinic team said Caminata was convicted on "junk science."

The Clinic has more on Caminata's conviction:

A fire destroyed the home he was living in, and the prosecutor argued that Victor had intentionally started the blaze. There was no direct evidence against Victor, but the prosecution presented the testimony of arson experts, who said that they could tell that the fire was arson, and Victor was the only possible suspect. Victor's attorney failed to properly contest the qualifications of the prosecution's experts, or the content of their testimony. The Michigan Innocence Clinic investigated Victor's case in 2011, and accepted it when it became clear that he was convicted on the basis of junk science. As independent experts retained by the Clinic have attested, there is no real evidence of arson, and every indication is that the fire was an accidental chimney fire, rooted in an improperly installed wood stove.

Many arson convictions around the country have been based on bad science. To learn more about how this bad science made its way into courtrooms you can check out Frontline's excellent series - "Death by Fire."

The Innocence Clinic found the state had "committed fundamental errors" in violation of the National Fire Protection Association's 921 standard (NFPA 921):

NFPA 921 adopts the scientific method for fire investigations and explicitly debunks the so-called “indicators” of arson that were routinely used by fire investigators for decades but are not rooted in science. It was first published in January 1992 and has been updated several times since then, but not all fire investigators use it routinely.

Chris Lamphere of the Cadillac News writes the first thing Caminata wanted to do after his release was to be with his kids:

After serving four years in prison, Victor Caminata, 39, had only one thing in mind when he was released Tuesday — to see his children.

"Nothing can make up for that lost time," Caminata said. "All I can do is look to the future."

Lamphere reports the state Attorney General's office has 30 days to decide whether they want to retry Caminata. In the meantime, Caminata will spend the 4th of July watching fireworks with his kids.