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Daniel Burreson

Other Arson Exonerations with False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
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On November 20 1997, firefighters in Berrien County, Michigan were summoned to the home of 43-year-old Daniel Burreson to extinguish a blaze that destroyed Burreson’s boat.

In June 1998, Burreson was charged with arson after an insurance company investigator concluded that the fire was intentionally set with an accelerant to collect on the insurance policy.

Burreson went to trial in Berrien County Circuit Court in October 1998. The case turned on testimony from two experts. The prosecution’s expert testified that the fire was intentionally set with an accelerant. A defense expert testified that the fire was accidental and was the result of “mischief aboard the boat” involving Burreson’s wife’s four-year-old grandson, Trenton, who was the last person known to be on board the boat before the fire erupted.

The defense sought to have Burreson testify that as he and Trenton watched the fire consume the boat, the boy was crying hysterically and saying that he was sorry for burning the boat. The defense also wanted to call the boy’s mother to testify that he made a similar admission to her.

The trial judge barred the testimony as unreliable hearsay. On October 9, after two days of deliberation, the jury convicted Burreson of arson. He was sentenced to three years of probation that included a requirement that he wear an electronic monitoring device for one year.

In July 2000, the Court of Appeals of Michigan reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the testimony about the boy’s admissions should have been allowed. “Trenton’s statements were highly relevant to the defense theory and because this was a simple contest of credibility and conflicting experts, his admission became all the more critical,” the appeals court said.

The prosecution filed an application for permission to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, but that was denied in December 2000. On January 25, 2001, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/19/2016
State:Michigan
County:Berrien
Most Serious Crime:Arson
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2001
Sentence:Probation
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:43
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No