James Kluppelberg was wrongfully convicted of a possible arson and related six-person homicide which occurred in the early morning hours of March 1984 on the south side of Chicago. Nearly four years passed until Kluppelberg was interrogated and arrested for setting the fire. Detectives severely beat Kluppelberg, causing injuries so serious that the court concluded it was “obvious the defendant was mistreated by police.” Kluppelberg was convicted at trial and given a life sentence based on faulty eyewitness testimony of an unreliable informant, and fire evidence since proven false.
The fire went largely uninvestigated until a career-criminal was arrested and charged with an unrelated burglary, theft, and violation of probation. Despite being admittedly high on the night of the fire, and despite the passage of four years, the informant told police that he remembered seeing Kluppelberg go back and forth the crime scene on the night in question. At the time of the informant’s statement, Kluppelberg was dating the informant’s exgirlfriend. The informant has since recanted his testimony, and it was proven that he could not possibly have seen what he stated because his view was obstructed by an entire building.
Recent advances in fire dynamics completely refute the testimony of the arson expert presented at trial. Although the Chicago Police Department officially concluded that the fire was accidental, the expert testimony presented at trial alleged that an investigator’s recollection of “burn patterns,” led him to determine that the fire was an arson. Modern fire investigation completely debunks the arson theories presented by the fire investigator at trial. In fact, the three purported burn patterns he allegedly identified are not widely recognized as featured common to any large house fire–features not necessarily having any correlation whatsoever with arson.
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