PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An appeals court has reversed the conviction of a man who has gone through two trials – and been found guilty twice – for the deaths of his two young sons in a 1985 Oxford Circle rowhome fire. The District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the ruling to determine whether it will appeal.
Pennsylvania Superior Court is sending the case against Daniel Dougherty back for a third trial, citing specific errors that the presiding judge allowed at retrial, including allowing jurors to view graphic photos of his 3- and 4-year-old boys depicted as they were found in their beds. The three-judge panel also questioned the use of prior expert prosecution testimony and unrelated accusations about Dougherty’s behavior unrelated to the charges.
The now 57-year-old Dougherty has been locked up since 1999, 13 years after the fire. In 2000, he was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and arson, and sentenced to death. In 2012, an appeals court imposed a life sentence after ruling that he had an ineffective trial lawyer. The following year, a new trial was ordered. In 2016, a jury convicted Dougherty of two counts of second-degree murder and arson, and a judge imposed consecutive life-sentences.
Defense lawyer David Fryman only called one witness, an arson expert who testified that the official ruling on cause should have been “undetermined.”
“Individuals have been convicted based on ‘junk science,’ or fire marshal myths on how fires start,” Fryman said.
Prosecutor Judge Conroy told jurors that Dougherty started the fire after a night of drinking, and then argued with his live-in girlfriend who threatened to leave him, and his wife, who refused his sexual advances.