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Billy Julian

Other Arson Cases
In the early morning hours of March 12, 2001, firefighters were summoned to extinguish a fire at the high school in Frankton, Indiana. The blaze caused more than $1 million in damage and appeared to have been ignited when someone attempted to cut open the school’s safe with an acetylene torch.

Hours later, police questioned 18-year-old Josh Rider after they learned that he had been arrested for drunken driving at about midnight while driving to his father’s house which was two blocks from the school. Rider denied any involvement.

The lead investigator asked another officer on the department if he knew anyone who might know something about the crime. The officer, for no apparent reason, suggested the name of 20-year-old Billy Julian. Three officers found Julian at his brother’s house and interrogated him.

At the time, Julian was wearing his favorite red shirt, which one of the officers commented on during the questioning. Julian said that he had spent the night of the fire with at his girlfriend’s home in Kokomo, Indiana, about 40 miles from Frankton. The officers then left after one suggested that it wouldn’t take long before “all of (their) asses were in jail.”

That afternoon, one of the officers saw 15-year-old Jordan Haulk near the school. Haulk was covered in soot and said he had been burning trash at his house earlier that day. The officer suggested that Haulk and Julian had set the fire together.

Four days later, Haulk, who was known in the community as a troubled teenager with an interest in fires and a reputation for telling lies, was brought in for questioning. The officers told him his mother would be at the station, but instead he was taken to an interrogation room and questioned without his mother.

During questioning, the officers persisted in saying that Julian was involved in the fire and eventually, Haulk gave a statement that he later said was based on facts fed to him by the police. The officers told Haulk they had found red fibers at the scene matching Julian’s shirt, so Haulk said in his statement that Julian was wearing a red shirt. He also said that the perpetrators got into the school through a roof vent using a crowbar and that the fire broke out when Julian dropped the torch. The statement said that Julian was accompanied by Josh Rider and two other youths.

Haulk later said he was threatened with arrest and promised he would get probation if he cooperated but would be prosecuted as an adult if he did not.

Police then arrested Julian, who was wearing the same red shirt he wore when he was first questioned on the day of the fire. His shirt was taken as evidence and Julian was charged with burglary and arson.

A week later, Haulk repeated the false account at a school disciplinary hearing, but after a break in the hearing, Haulk came back and recanted the statement, saying he had no idea who was involved in the fire or how it happened.

Julian was released on March 22 after Haulk recanted.

The officers continued their investigation and ultimately focused on Jeffrey Brooks after one of the officer’s relatives reported that two of his employees, Brooks and another man, might know something about the fire.

Brooks was questioned and interviewed by the police more than a dozen times and while the interviews were tape-recorded, only some of the interviews were written up in police reports. None of the reports and none of the recordings were ever disclosed to any defense attorneys.

After numerous meetings, Brooks, who was promised lenience on his own pending cases in return for cooperation, gave a series of statements that he later would recant as a false story fed to him by the officers. Brooks’ first statement said he saw Rider and Julian at a pool hall after the fire and Julian admitted the crime. That story was later embellished, on instructions from the officers, to say that Brooks met Julian in the school parking lot to sell him drugs and that Julian went into the school and set the fire. That statement was later amplified further with Brooks saying he accompanied Julian into the school and saw him set the fire.

The officers then asked Brooks to find others to corroborate his account, and he did. Several people provided false statements implicating Julian. Some recanted prior to trial and some recanted years later. All of them at one time or another admitted their statements implicating Julian were false and were made because they were threatened with arrest, or were promised leniency on their own pending cases, or both.

In April 2002—more than a year after the fire—police arrested Julian again and charged him with burglary and arson. Police also charged Haulk and Rider with burglary and arson.

Haulk was prosecuted as a juvenile for trespassing and false reporting and received probation.

Julian’s and Rider’s cases were severed and Julian went to trial in Madison County Circuit Court in March 2003. Brooks testified that he met Julian, Rider and Haulk in the school parking lot to sell drugs to Julian. Then all of them broke into the school and tried to break into the safe with the acetylene torch, but they dropped the torch and it started the fire. Brooks’ brother, Ray, also testified that he was in the parking lot and saw them break into the school.

Several witnesses testified that Julian admitted setting the fire, though some of them also testified in court that the statements were not true. The prosecution presented the testimony of three jailhouse snitches who said they heard Julian confess when he was locked up with them awaiting trial.

The prosecution presented evidence of red fibers that the officers said they found on a gate at the school and argued that the fibers came from Julian’s shirt even though the crime laboratory report was inconclusive.

On March 15, 2003, the jury convicted Julian of arson and burglary. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Josh Rider went to trial in 2004. Brooks again was called to the witness stand, but during cross-examination, he admitted that he had lied during Julian’s trial when he was confronted with records showing that he was wearing an electronic home monitoring device on his ankle at the time of the fire and was not at the school at all. After the jury was unable to reach unanimous verdict, a mistrial was declared and subsequently the prosecution dismissed the charges against Rider.

Lawyers for Julian filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial and in 2006, the motion was granted based on the disclosure that Jeffrey Brooks had been home on the night of the fire—evidence documented by the reports of the ankle bracelet that he was wearing at the time. In addition, both Brooks brothers recanted their testimony and said they been fed their stories by the police.

Julian was released from prison. Within days, one of the officers pulled his police car up next to Julian’s car and said, “This ain’t over” and “just because (you’re) out doesn’t mean (you’re) free.” Julian threatened to sue the officer and the officer told him: “You’ll never get to that point…Your ass is going back to jail.”

The prosecution appealed and the ruling was upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals in 2007. For three years, Julian remained free on bond and the case was delayed while the police attempted to re-investigate the arson and get new evidence implicating Julian. Finally, in July 2010, the prosecution dismissed the case.

In 2011, a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on Julian’s behalf against the Frankton police department, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, and the three officers involved in the investigation—Madison County Sheriff’s deputy Sam Hanna and Frankton police officers William Ammick and David Huffman. The lawsuit accused the officers of framing Julian and concealing evidence from the prosecutors and the defense lawyers, including evidence that Jeffrey Brooks was wearing an ankle monitoring device at the time of the crime as well as numerous police reports and recordings of interviews with Brooks and other witnesses.

The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge on the ground that Julian had waited too long to file it—that he was required to file it within two years of the 2006 ruling granting a new trial. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reinstated the lawsuit, ruling that the two-year filing period began when the criminal charges were dismissed in 2010 and the lawsuit had been filed well within that period.

In August 2015, Julian’s attorneys, Mike Kanovitz, Elizabeth Wang, Steve Art, and Elliot Slosar of the law firm of Loevy & Loevy, announced that the case had been settled for $3 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/21/2015
Last Updated: 11/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Arson
Additional Convictions:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:2001
Sentence:15 years
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No