Northeast Times

Man who killed sons faces appeal deadline

At­tor­neys for Daniel Dougherty, con­victed of start­ing a fire that killed his two young sons in their Ox­ford Circle home in 1985, have un­til Fri­day to file their writ­ten briefs in an ap­peal to Su­per­i­or Court.

The at­tor­neys are ap­peal­ing a re­cent de­cision by Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Ge­r­off to deny a pe­ti­tion for a new tri­al. The judge ruled that the opin­ions of the ex­perts Dougherty hired for the ap­peal would not have changed the out­come of the ori­gin­al tri­al.

After the de­fense files its briefs with Su­per­i­or Court, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice will have 30 days to file its briefs.

Should Dougherty lose at the Su­per­i­or Court level, his at­tor­neys could ask the Pennsylvania Su­preme Court to hear the mat­ter. The de­fense has also filed ap­peals in the fed­er­al court sys­tem, which would hear the case once the state ap­peals are com­pleted.

Dougherty, now 52, is serving a sen­tence of life in pris­on with no chance of pa­role. He had been on death row, but the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Feb­ru­ary agreed to over­turn the death sen­tence.

Daniel Dougherty Jr., 4, and John Dougherty, 3, died in a fire as they slept in the second-floor bed­room of their home at 929½ Carv­er St. on Aug. 25, 1985.

At the time, the fire mar­shal labeled the blaze sus­pi­cious be­cause it star­ted in three places — the couch, love seat and un­der the din­ing room table.

Daniel Dougherty was the only oth­er per­son home at the time. He was found stand­ing on the front porch by a 2nd Po­lice Dis­trict ser­geant and of­ficer who asked his name.

“My name is mud. I should die for what I did,” he replied.

However, there was not enough evid­ence to charge him with the crime.

In 1999, de­tect­ives from the po­lice spe­cial in­vest­ig­a­tions unit met with the fire mar­shal to dis­cuss un­solved ar­son cases. De­tect­ives re-in­ter­viewed wit­nesses, and the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice ap­proved charges.

Po­lice ar­res­ted Dougherty, who was liv­ing in Port Rich­mond, and he went on tri­al in Oc­to­ber 2000.

Testi­mony in­cluded a form­al state­ment Dougherty gave an hour after the in­cid­ent. He told po­lice he was asleep on the liv­ing room couch be­fore awaken­ing at 4 a.m. when he saw the cur­tains on the front win­dow on fire. He un­suc­cess­fully tried to put out the fire with a neigh­bor’s garden hose, then tried to climb a lad­der to get to his chil­dren, but the flames pre­ven­ted him from reach­ing them.

Also, two jail­house in­form­ants test­i­fied that Dougherty told them he com­mit­ted the crime to get re­venge on his es­tranged wife, with whom he had quarreled in the hours lead­ing up to the fire.

Dougherty test­i­fied that he was in­no­cent, but a jury con­victed him of first-de­gree murder and sen­tenced him to death by leth­al in­jec­tion.

The case has been in court nu­mer­ous times since the sen­tence. The latest hear­ing was held in front of Ge­r­off in June.

Dougherty’s de­fense team is ques­tion­ing the ef­fect­ive­ness of his tri­al law­yer, the now-de­ceased Thomas Q. Cic­cone Jr., for fail­ing to hire a fire in­vest­ig­a­tion ex­pert.

Newly hired ex­perts, who ex­amined pic­tures of the scene, test­i­fied at the ap­peal that the burn pat­terns were con­nec­ted, not dis­tinct, an in­dic­a­tion that the blaze could have been an ac­ci­dent. At­tor­neys spec­u­late that the fire could have been caused by a smol­der­ing cord, wire or ci­gar­ette.

However, As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Bar­bara Paul ar­gued that the ex­perts could not rule out ar­son. She noted the lack of burns on Dougherty’s body and told the judge that then-Fire Mar­shal John Quinn’s find­ings are more trust­worthy than those of the de­fense ex­perts, since Quinn ex­amined evid­ence at the house. ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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