INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - A woman spent 17 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her toddler because federal investigators fabricated evidence to show that a fatal fire was deliberately set, the woman claims in court.
Kristine Bunch sued the United States of America in Federal Court Thursday.
Bunch was convicted of intentionally setting a fire that killed her 3-year-old son on June 30, 1995. She was released in 2012, after an appellate court reversed her conviction due to evidential discrepancies.
Bunch says in her lawsuit that Indiana Fire Marshal investigators Bryan Frank and James Skaggs investigated the fire that killed her son and destroyed their mobile home. Bunch claims Frank and Skaggs were determined to prove that the fire was deliberately set.
"Frank and Skaggs lacked sufficient basis to make these allegations, but determined that they would manipulate and fabricate evidence to support their thesis that the fire was arson and was deliberately set by plaintiff," the complaint states.
The only defendant in the lawsuit is the United States of America.
Bunch says the investigators sent samples of evidence to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Laboratory, stating that a liquid accelerant was involved in an arson fire.
ATF Agent William Kinard, a forensic chemist, was assigned the case. Bunch says Kinard found that nothing in the evidence provided that supported the theory that the fire was intentionally set.
"Skaggs and Frank recognized that Kinard's findings were inconsistent with their manufactured and fabricated allegations that plaintiff had deliberately killed her child by setting an arson fire using accelerants," the complaint states. "Working together with Kinard in a joint action, Skaggs and Frank caused Kinard's report to be altered so that it falsely stated that accelerants were found in exhibits 6 and 8.
"In accordance with this corrupt joint action, and knowing that changing the report would support the allegations of Skaggs and Frank, Kinard agreed to alter his report to state that accelerants were found in exhibits 6 and 8, and concocted an 'official' report which falsely so stated."
Bunch says she was prosecuted and convicted of setting the fire due to the false evidence manufactured by Skaggs, Frank and Kinard.
She says the evidence manipulation came to light after she filed a post-conviction relief petition in 2006.
"In the course of the post-conviction proceedings, it was first revealed that Kinard had prepared at least two reports that found no HPDs [heavy petroleum distillates] in exhibits 6 and 8 - the crucial evidence from the bedroom and the 'pour pattern' in the living room - and that Kinard had also determined that the HPDs found in other parts of the home were consistent only with kerosene, not other HPDs," the complaint states.
Bunch says the traces of kerosene came from the family's use of kerosene heaters for years.
"It also was revealed for the first time in the course of these proceedings that Kinard had communicated his real findings to Skaggs and Frank, that these findings had been suppressed, and that subsequently his official report had been altered and fabricated to inculpate plaintiff, as set forth above," according to the complaint.
"None of the exculpatory evidence set forth above had previously been revealed to the prosecutors, who therefore were unable to produce it to defense counsel."
Bunch says the revelation led to the reversal of her conviction.
She says Kinard's actions caused her to wrongfully 17 spend years in prison. During her imprisonment she gave birth to another child and was deprived of the benefits of motherhood because she was locked up, Bunch says.
She seeks damages for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by John Stainthorp with the People's Law Office in Chicago.
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