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Davey Reedy

Other Arson Cases
In the early morning hours of August 10, 1987, a fire broke out at the residence of 32-year-old Davey Reedy, his four-year-old daughter, Tina, and his two-year-old son, Michael.

The children died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation, but Reedy escaped in critical condition, suffering from burns, lacerations, and smoke inhalation.

When Reedy fled the home, he went to a neighbor, who asked about the children. At first, Reedy said the children were not in the burning house but were at his girlfriend's house. As a result, no one attempted to search for the children. However, before being taken to the hospital, Reedy said that in fact the children were in the house. The children were then discovered. The daughter was at the top of the stairs. The son was found in a second floor bedroom behind a makeshift safety gate tied with string.

Reedy was charged with capital murder and arson after a crime lab technician said that gasoline residue was found on the back porch and kitchen as well as on Reedy’s clothing which had been confiscated at the hospital.

Reedy went to trial in February 1988 in Roanoke County Circuit Court. The prosecution’s first witness testified that a few months prior to the fire, she heard Reedy say that if he ever lost custody of the children to his wife, he would burn the house down with himself and the children inside. Her testimony was suspect, however, because Reedy had been awarded custody of the children.

Deputy Roanoke Fire Marshall David Rickman, who investigated the fire, testified that the fire was intentionally caused by pouring and igniting gasoline on the back porch and kitchen area of the house. Laboratory analysis of burnt wood samples from the house revealed the presence of gasoline. Laboratory analysis of Reedy’s t-shirt and underwear also showed the presence of gasoline. A physician who treated Reedy testified that the irregularity of burn patterns on Reedy's body indicated that his burns were caused by direct flame.

According to testimony, the evening before the fire, Reedy had an argument with his girlfriend and she left the home with her belongings. Within hours before the fire, Reedy made two trips by taxi to his girlfriend's house in an effort to get her to return. Reedy had been drinking.

Reedy’s neighbors, who lived two doors away, testified that when he came asking for help, they doused Reedy's hands with water from a garden hose to relieve the pain caused by burns to his hands.

Forensic trace analyst Amy Lawrence conducted a gas chromatography test on both the t-shirt and underwear. The test showed the presence of gasoline, she testified. Her tests on debris also were positive for the presence of gasoline in the kitchen and on the back porch.

Reedy testified in his own defense and denied setting the fire. He said the string on the door was to keep the door closed because the child protection gate was broken and he didn’t want the boy wandering out of the bedroom at night.

The prosecution argued to the jury that Reedy set his home ablaze while the children were asleep, then jumped out of a window either because he backed out of a planned murder-suicide or because he wanted to be perceived as a hero who tried, but failed, to save his children.

On February 10, 1988, the jury declined to convict Reedy of capital murder, but found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life plus 10 years in prison.

In 1989, the Roanoke Times newspaper published an article suggesting that the fire may have been set by someone else. The newspaper reported that Reedy’s former wife made statements after the fire claiming that she set the fire. One witness told the newspaper that she saw a car similar to the one driven by the former wife leaving the scene of the burning home as the fire trucks arrived.

The newspaper also reported that relatives of Reedy’s former wife had died in house fires. The father of her first child died in a fire in 1980 and the woman’s mother died in a fire in 1995—seven years after the fire that killed her two children for which Reedy was convicted.

Although Virginia law prohibits newly discovered evidence from being used to challenge a conviction unless it is discovered within 21 days after the verdict, defense attorney Roberta Bondurant decided to represent Reedy for free and began re-investigating the case.

In 2000, after the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld Reedy’s convictions, Bondurant filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus that claimed Reedy was legally incompetent to stand trial. The petition said that a psychologist examined Reedy two months before the trial and found him competent, but had “grave concerns” about Reedy’s mental condition. The petiition also said that Reedy's carbon monoxide level was such after the fire that he was likely confused and disoriented.

The petition also said that Reedy began to act irrationally during the trial and was so ill that he was hospitalized for one night, indicating that he was breaking down physically and mentally, but there was no subsequent examination to determine his fitness to testify.

The petition also said that Bondurant had obtained sworn statements from two witnesses, one of whom “places an alternative suspect at the scene of the crime and the other which describes an alternative suspect’s incriminating statements.”

In 2001, Roanoke Judge Clifford Weckstein held a hearing on the motion, but after two days of testimony Weckstein denied the petition, saying that that Reedy had “utterly failed to demonstrate that he is factually innocent.” In 2002, Richard J. McGarry, a former forensic toxicologist for the Commonwealth from 1967 to 1991, reviewed the laboratory reports and testimony of the analyst who testified she found gasoline. McGarry raised questions about the reliability of the methodology.

In 2003, a petition for clemency was filed with then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

In August 2005, Combustion Science and Engineering, Inc., submitted a report refuting each of the bases cited by the prosecution’s arson investigator at trial. The report said the burn patterns and melted structures would also result from a slow burning fire where no accelerant was used. The report questioned the validity of the lab analyst’s results. Two months later, then Parole Board Chair Helen Fahey requested that the laboratory re-examine the notes and the same analyst reaffirmed her initial conclusion.

In 2006, Bondurant contacted arson expert John Lentini who evaluated the laboratory testing in the case. Lentini concluded that the test results did not indicated the presence of gasoline on Reedy’s t-shirt and underwear. Testing methods had improved since 1987 when the evidence in the Reedy case was tested, Lentini said, but “Even by the standards used in 1987….the identification of gasoline in these two samples was suspect.”

In April 2009, Reedy was granted parole and released. After that, Roberta Bondurant’s husband, Thomas, took over the case, and more detailed information based on a broader investigation of the fire showed that the fire had been classified as arson based on indicators that had since been by scientific testing to be valueless.

In March 2013, Virginia parole board investigator Trudy Harris asked the state lab to review the lab reports once more. The same lab analyst again insisted there was a finding of gasoline, but conceded that under the standards used in 2013, she would have said that she found “characteristics of gasoline.”

In January 2014, then-Gov. Robert McDonnell requested that the state lab review the notes once again. This time a different analyst, who was familiar with the testing procedures of 1987 reviewed the results without being informed of the conclusions of the original analyst. This review resulted in a finding that “current reporting criteria would preclude the identification of gasoline,” a view consistent with the opinions of all outside experts who had reviewed the case.

On December 22, 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted Reedy an absolute pardon, saying “it is now clear that Davey Reedy’s convictions on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson are not supported by the forensic evidence relied upon.” The fire evidence at trial, McAuliffe said, was unreliable and modern-day science had debunked the determinations that gasoline was poured on the kitchen floor of the home.

“The latest review by the laboratory was consistent with those raised by other experts challenging the previous assertion that the fire that resulted in the deaths of Michael and Tina Marie was caused by an accelerant," McAuliffe said in the pardon.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/31/2015
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Arson
Reported Crime Date:1987
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No