A Greensburg woman – who said she was wrongfully convicted 14 years ago of an arson that killed her son – has lost her latest bid for a new trial and is now taking her case to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
After months of review following a hearing in October, Decatur Circuit Judge John Westhafer issued a 47-page ruling earlier this summer that denied Kristine Bunch’s request for post-conviction relief. She was convicted in 1996 of arson and murder for setting the trailer-home fire the year before that resulted in the death of her 3-year-old son. She was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
In his June 8 decision, Judge Westhafer wrote that he didn’t feel the defense produced sufficient evidence to warrant a retrial. He noted that Bunch’s lawyers had not introduced or presented any new factual evidence or physical evidence discovered since the original 1996 trial, but rather only opinion evidence. One of his main reasons for denial was that the lawyers presented four experts about how a new trial would turn out, but those individuals cited the same “undetermined” cause as the defense’s original trial expert.
“While (Bunch) had new resources available to her at the post-conviction hearing, new experts do not create new evidence,” the judge wrote. “The issues raised and the conclusions reached – while packaged differently – remain basically the same as they were at trial in 1996.”
Judge Westhafer also discussed the investigation quality, existence of kerosene in the floor samples with ‘innocent’ explanations, and a potential electrical cause were all presented at the original trial and in subsequent appeals. He also referred to Bunch’s own trial comments that appear contradictory and create “a significant inference of guilt.”
Bunch’s legal team – Indianapolis attorney Hilary Bowe Ricks and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law – filed an appeal July 8 and briefs are being filed in the coming months. That appeal is Kristine Bunch v. State of Indiana, No. 16A05-1007-PC-00439.
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