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Ray Girdler

Other Arson Cases
On November 20, 1981, in Yavapai County, Arizona, 36-year-old Ray Girdler Jr.’s trailer home caught fire. Girdler escaped, but his wife, Sherrie, and their two-year-old daughter, Jennifer, perished.

Police suspected that Girdler, who had unpaid bills, had set the fire to collect a $6,400 insurance payment. He was charged with murder and arson.

Girdler went on trial in Yavapi County Superior Court in April, 1982. Two arson experts testified for the prosecution: state fire investigator Robert Humphrey and Arizona chief deputy fire marshal David Dale. They testified that the fire was set intentionally and accelerants were used--as much as a gallon of flammable liquid, probably gasoline. The experts said that heat-warped metal, burn patterns on the trailer floor in the shape of pools of liquid, and multiple locations where the fire appeared to start were indications that the fire was arson. 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 new trial after arson 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. The jailhouse snitch admitted that he had lied when he said Girdler admitted setting the fire.

Girdler was released on November 17, 1990, and the prosecution dismissed the charges on December 18, 1991.

Girdler later filed a civil rights lawsuit which was settled for $150,000.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 3/14/2017
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Arson
Reported Crime Date:1981
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No