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Jennifer Hall

Other Arson Cases
On January 24, 2001, a fire broke out in the respiratory therapy room at the Cass County Medical Center in Harrisonville, Missouri, causing an estimated $23,000 in damage.

Twenty-year-old Jennifer Hall was the only respiratory therapist on duty at the time. She told authorities that she was outside, getting a soda from her truck when she heard the fire alarm sound. She rushed back into the building and, along with two other employees, Violet Warren and Mark Berry, turned off the oxygen valve in the room to prevent an explosion. Hall later said that at one point Warren reached around Hall to grab Berry to keep him from too close to the fire. Berry lost his balance and bumped into Hall, who instinctively grabbed into a hot metal doorframe to keep from falling, though she burned her hand on the frame.

Afterward, investigators noticed the burn on Hall’s hand and an unusual amount of charred paper near the fire. Three weeks later, fire investigators concluded the fire was intentionally set and Hall was arrested and charged with first-degree arson.

On the recommendation of a relative, Hall’s parents hired a private attorney to defend her. However, the attorney failed to examine the evidence and routinely mixed up facts, dates and names at trial. The prosecution argued that Hall had burned herself setting the fire and that she set the fire to gain attention for her heroic attempt to extinguish it, because she was unhappy about a sexual harassment claim she had filed against a co-worker, who had died two weeks before the fire.

On September 26, 2001, a jury convicted Hall of second-degree arson. Hall’s attorney advised her that she might receive a more favorable sentence if she took responsibility for the fire, so, at sentencing, Hall falsely claimed that she had dropped a lit cigarette and the fire started accidentally. Hall was sentenced to three years in prison.

Hall’s parents hired a new attorney to handle the appeal. The attorney retained an expert, Carl Martin, to examine the evidence. Martin quickly found definitive proof, overlooked by police investigators, that the fire had started because of an electrical short in a cord on an old clock.

Martin also concluded that the charred papers found on the floor near the origin of the fire came from a file tray that was on top of a computer terminal and melted due to the heat and spilled its contents on the floor.

Nonetheless, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed Hall’s conviction, and she began serving her sentence in June 2003. Hall’s attorney then filed a motion to set aside the verdict, arguing that she had received an inadequate legal defense because her trial attorney had failed to investigate alternative causes for the fire.

On June 30 2004, Cass County Judge Jacqueline Cook, who presided over Hall’s trial, ruled that Hall’s trial defense attorney had been ineffective and granted the motion. Hall, who had spent a year in prison, was released on parole a month later. Five months later, the prosecution decided to retry Hall even though, if convicted again, Hall could not serve any more time.

In February 2005, Hall went to trial a second time and a jury acquitted her. Hall filed a federal lawsuit against her trial defense attorney seeking to recover the more than $100,000 paid in fees. Hall's lawyer dismissed the lawsuit without disclosing whether it was settled.
 
- Maurice Possley
 

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 6/6/2017
State:Missouri
County:Cass
Most Serious Crime:Arson
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2005
Sentence:3 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No