On November 20, 1981, in Yavapai, Arizona, 36-year-old Ray Girdler Jr.’s house caught fire. Girdler escaped, but his wife and 2-year-old child died. Police suspected that Girdler, who had unpaid bills, had set the fire to collect a $6,400 insurance payment. At trial, two forensic experts testified that the fire was set intentionally and accelerants were used. A jailhouse snitch also testified that Girdler had confessed that he had set the fire to collect the insurance money. On May 20, 1982, a jury convicted Girdler of first-degree murder and arson. Girdler was sentenced to two life terms plus 21 years.
In 1990, a trial court granted Girdler a second trial after experts testified that new scientific developments showed that the indications of arson relied on by the forensic experts at his original trial could easily have been produced by an accidental fire. Girdler was released on November 17, 1990, and charges were dropped on December 18, 1991.
- Stephanie Denzel