On August 13, 2001, a fire erupted at a Prosser, Washington high school and caused more than $500,000 in damage. The fire began in the teacher’s lounge and caused smoke damage throughout the school.
Gabriel Baddeley, a 19-year-old former student with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder who had a reputation as a troublemaker, came under suspicion when he told a friend that he had been in the school the night before the fire broke out.
About 16 hours after the blaze was extinguished, Baddeley, who had been suspended the previous spring, but was eligible to return in the fall when classes resumed , was brought in for questioning by police.
With coaching by the police, Baddeley–whose mental disability made him highly suggestible–falsely confessed to the crime. Although he recanted the confession almost immediately, police charged him with arson on August 16, 2001.
In March 2002, after Baddeley was examined and declared competent to stand trial, he pled guilty to arson. He was sentenced to two months in jail, 180 hours of community service, and ordered to pay $650,000 in restitution.
In 2004, a woman who was in therapy admitted to police that she had set the fire and provided details corroborating her story.
On March 31, 2004, a judge granted the prosecution’s motion to vacate Baddeley’s conviction and charges were dismissed.
- Stephanie Denzel