Last week The Northern California Innocence Project won more than a decade long legal battle for the release of George Souliotes. The NCIP Press Release stated that a California judge overturned his conviction and ordered his release on April 12, 2013 unless the prosecution not only files for a re-trail but also takes the steps to do so within the next 30 days.
Souliotes was convicted in 2000 for a triple murder and arson when a fatal fire in 1997 occurred on a separate property of his in Modesto, California. The fire claimed the lives of three residents. Unfortunately, Souliotes fell victim to a wrongful conviction due to faulty fire science and ineffective counsel at a second trial.
Arson forensics have developed with the progression of technology. The advancement of fire science has allowed for many cases involving arson to be reconsidered. Regarding Souliotes case, an article in The Los Angeles Times stated,
“For decades, fire investigators believed accelerant-propelled arsons left signs: melted steel, glass etched by tiny cracks, certain patterns and markings.
But when the theories were finally tested, scientists learned the conditions also were found in accidental blazes.”
The science provided as evidence in Souliotes’ trial resulted in his conviction and sentencing of three life sentences without parole. Souliotes served 16 years of his sentence before a judge ordered for his release this April. For Souliotes, faulty science was not the only reason the prosecution secured a conviction; the counsel that Souliotes received in his second trial was inadequate in their defense.
The Wall Street Journal describes Souliotes’ counsel claiming,
“His [Souliotes] first trial resulted in a hung jury, after his defense counsel provided a vigorous defense including expert witnesses. At his second trial, however, Souliotes’ defense counsel failed to present a case, called no expert witnesses, and called none of the other fact witnesses who established Souliotes’ complete lack of motive at the first trial.”
With evidence pointing away from arson along with evidence of ineffective counsel, Souliotes’ case began unraveling as the NCIP took on the case to fight to overturn the conviction. The Wall Street Journal continued with a statement from one of Souliotes’ lawyers, Jimmy McBirney stating, “Mr. Souliotes has always maintained his innocence, and the evidence has now proven it. There is absolutely no basis for a retrial, and we look forward to seeing him set free.”
Pictured below is NCIP Press Release photo of Souliotes and the legal team that helped him gain his overturned conviction. Congratulations to George Souliotes on his release and The Northern California Innocence Project for their success and their hard work on the Souliotes case.