Northeast Times

Defense requests new trial in deadly arson case

Start­Frag­ment

The moth­er, grand­moth­er and three aunts of Daniel and John Dougherty sat in a courtroom last week as the boys’ fath­er — con­victed of start­ing a fire that killed them way back in the sum­mer of 1985 — sought a new tri­al.

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. in Ox­ford Circle 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 Sr. was the only oth­er per­son home at the time, but 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.

Key testi­mony was provided by a 2nd Po­lice Dis­trict ser­geant and of­ficer, who found Dougherty on the front porch. They asked him his name.

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

In a form­al state­ment about an hour after the in­cid­ent, Dougherty told po­lice he was asleep on the liv­ing room couch be­fore awaken­ing when he heard flames and 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.

At tri­al, 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 took the stand and denied any in­volve­ment, but was con­victed by a jury of first-de­gree murder and sen­tenced to death by leth­al in­jec­tion.

The Dougherty case has been in court nu­mer­ous times since that ver­dict and sen­tence. His cur­rent de­fense team has ques­tioned the ef­fect­ive­ness of his tri­al law­yer, the now- de­ceased Thomas Q. Cic­cone Jr., for fail­ing to hire a fire in­vest­ig­a­tion ex­pert.

In Feb­ru­ary, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice agreed to over­turn his death sen­tence in fa­vor of life without pa­role.

At a two-day court hear­ing in March, fire ex­perts John Len­tini and An­gelo Pis­ani test­i­fied for the de­fense that there was no basis for de­clar­ing the blaze an ar­son. They cited burn pat­terns that were con­nec­ted, not dis­tinct, an in­dic­a­tion that the blaze could have been an ac­ci­dent.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Ge­r­off ordered writ­ten briefs and set or­al ar­gu­ments for June 13.

De­fense at­tor­ney Dav­id S. Fry­man said ad­vances in fire sci­ence led Len­tini and Pis­ani to de­clare the cause of the fire to be “un­deter­mined.”

“Mr. Quinn’s the­ory has no sci­entif­ic basis,” he said of then-Fire Mar­shal John Quinn.

Fry­man told Ge­r­off that Len­tini and Pis­ani could have im­peached Quinn’s testi­mony and swayed at least one jur­or, had they been hired for the ori­gin­al tri­al. He said Dougherty has suffered an in­justice and a con­sti­tu­tion­al vi­ol­a­tion for 12 years.

In a bit of the­at­rics, Fry­man gave a mock clos­ing ar­gu­ment to an empty jury box. He sug­ges­ted that a cord, wire or ci­gar­ette could smolder, lead­ing to thick, hot smoke and ul­ti­mately a full fire.

“The burn pat­terns at 929½ Carv­er did not re­flect mul­tiple points of ori­gin,” he said.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney John Doyle used Quinn’s find­ings in his clos­ing ar­gu­ments back in 2000. Doyle was in court again last week. A col­league, Bar­bara Paul, ar­gued for the pro­sec­u­tion.

Paul noted that Len­tini and Pis­ani could not rule out ar­son. She re­coun­ted some of the tri­al testi­mony, in­clud­ing the lack of burns on Dougherty’s body.

The pro­sec­utor said Quinn’s find­ings are more trust­worthy be­cause he ex­amined evid­ence at the house, while the de­fense ex­perts looked at pic­tures, adding that their testi­mony was “equi­voc­able.”

Ge­r­off asked Paul about Cic­cone’s fail­ure to hire a fire in­vest­ig­a­tion ex­pert.

“I con­cede that he would have done a bet­ter job cross-ex­amin­ing Mr. Quinn if he had an ex­pert,” she replied.

The judge asked the pro­sec­utor wheth­er she would feel more con­fid­ent in the jury’s ver­dict if the de­fense had a fire ex­pert.

“No your hon­or, not these ex­perts,” she said, re­fer­ring to Len­tini and Pis­ani.

Ge­r­off said he would re-read the writ­ten briefs and take the mat­ter un­der ad­vise­ment.

Paul and Doyle met with the boys’ fam­ily af­ter­ward.

“I just want it all done,” said Kath­leen Dipple, their moth­er.

“He de­serves to be where he’s at,” said Kath­ryn Dahill, their grand­mom. “He should nev­er get out. He knows what he’s done.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus