A woman whose murder conviction was overturned after she spent 17 years in prison may proceed with a malicious prosecution lawsuit against fire officials she claims framed her, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Kristine Bunch claims investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives falsified and suppressed forensic reports that were provided to Indiana Fire Marshal investigators Bryan Frank and James Skaggs. Bunch was found guilty of setting a fire that killed her 3-year-old son, Anthony, in their Greensburg mobile home 20 years ago.
The Indiana Court of Appeals threw out Bunch’s conviction in 2012. She discovered through post-conviction relief proceedings that an ATF chemist had reported finding no accelerants in samples, but altered his report to include findings that accelerants were present. Bunch sued earlier this year.
Monday, Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied the government’s motion to dismiss Bunch’s suit. However, the state’s motion for summary judgment remains, and Lawrence ordered parties to work out a schedule in which Bunch may conduct discovery to determine whether the chemist qualifies as a law enforcement officer.
Lawrence gave parties two weeks to outline a timeframe for discovery and briefing. “The consolidated case remains stayed pending a ruling on the United States’ motion,” he wrote.
The case is Kristine Bunch v. Bryan Frank, et al., 1:14-cv-438.