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Humberto Correia

Other Arson Cases
On September 30, 1996, a fire broke out in the photo processing business owned by Humberto Correia in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The blaze was quickly extinguished by firefighters, who then determined that Correia, 47, had set the fire to collect $280,000 in insurance proceeds—although the insurance company’s independent investigation turned up no evidence the fire was intentionally set.
Correia was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 20, 2000 on charges arson, mail fraud and using fire to commit a felony. Federal prosecutors alleged he used the insurance proceeds to pay off his home and business mortgages and then sold the burned building.
Roger Nascimento, an electrical inspector for the City of Taunton, testified that he saw no indication that the cause of the fire was electrical. John Mulcahy, a forensic electrical engineer, testified that the cause was not electrical. And, Vincent Calenda, a fire inspector for the Travelers Insurance Company, testified that the fire was not electrical and that his conclusion was “absolutely” correct.
Gregory Galligan, a fire investigator for the Taunton Fire Department, testified that Correia told him he had shut off the “the alarm,” which Galligan took to mean the fire alarm. Galligan said “nothing electrical could possibly have started the fire” and, therefore, deduced that the cause must be arson. However, Galligan also estimated that in around 20 percent of fires the cause is never known. And, an attorney for Travelers had written a report stating that “the cause of the fire should be classified as undetermined.”
On January 30, 2002, Correia was convicted in U.S. District Court following a six-day trial. The prosecution presented evidence that Correia had suffered financial difficulties for five years before the fire broke out.
The defense argued the fire was the result of electrical malfunction, but presented no evidence to support the claim, called no arson expert and failed to call the insurance company arson investigator who determined the fire was not arson.
Facing a sentence of 15 to 45 years in prison and a $1 million fine, Correia’s lawyers filed a one-page motion for a new trial.
On February 8, 2002, before sentencing, U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel granted the motion, ruling that Correia’s defense team, led by James Fagan, a Massachusetts state representative from Taunton, had provided inadequate legal assistance.
The judge found that Fagan had failed to question witnesses about the possibility that the fire had started from an unknown cause. The judge also criticized Fagan and his co-counsel, William Brown, for failing to object when the prosecution presented evidence of Correia’s debts and for failing to show his assets.
The judge found that Correia’s lawyers failed to try to rebut the prosecution claim that Correia shut off the alarm system before the trial. Evidence produced after the trial showed that the building had a burglar alarm, but no fire alarm system.
During the hearing Fagan, the chairman of the Massachusetts House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, admitted he had provided inadequate legal assistance at Correia’s trial.
On September 1, 2004, Correia, defended by a new legal team, was acquitted at his retrial.
– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Most Serious Crime:Arson
Additional Convictions:Tax Evasion/Fraud
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:Not Sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:47
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No