On December 23, 1991 the tragedy of a fatal residential structure fire took place in a small town of Corsicana, Texas. Three small children lost their lives in a residential house fire. Found guilty of capital murder and arson, their father Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed by lethal injection. Negative Corpus Methodology or Arson by Default was used by fire investigators to determine Willingham’s guilt. The Assistant Fire Chief and a Texas State Fire Investigator followed what they believed were indicators of arson and failed to look at Scientific Methods to prove these alleged indicators of arson and therefore sentencing an innocent man to death.
In 1992 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) established the first edition of NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, which set guidelines for forensic fire scene reconstruction, a platform to rule out or prove any hypothesis. Scientific Methods provide concrete evidence as to how a fire may or may not have started. A necessary guide to prove or disprove factual data in cases where arson might be involved. Whereas Negative Corpus is a more traditional fire investigator approach to solving such suspect cases of arson, based on unproven theories of tell-tell signs such as alligatoring, cracking and spalling or the classic v-pattern methods which lead to the process of elimination rather than scientific proof.
“Negative Corpus” Simply put, negative corpus is the process of determining what caused a fire by eliminating each possible cause, one by one, until only one possible cause remains. The one remaining possibility is then concluded to be the cause of the fire, regardless of a complete lack of evidence to support that conclusion. In utiliz...
... middle of paper ...
...of applying the negative corpus method is most commonly seen when a fire investigator finds no evidence of complete ignition source that might be responsible for an accidental fire and use the process of elimination alone to conclude, therefore, that the fire must have started intentionally. ("Negative Corpus," n.d., para. 2)
Arson investigation is no longer and “art form” but a “science”. Through the years of traditional fire service, many of the “art forms” are being phased out as science is grow with the ever-changing basis of technology. NFPA 921 has set the standards for legal processes to be scientifically proven in the cases of arson. Such process not only aid investigators in the facts involved in such cases, but help protect the innocent from wrongfully being prosecuted. Every defendant has the right to a fair trial, scientific methods provide that fairness.
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