Buting ,Williams & Stilling ,S.C. | A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Call Today for a FREE Consultation



Fatally flawed arson evidence means Tennessee man goes free

On Behalf of | Jun 1, 2022 | Wrongful Convictions

In February 1992, 24-year-old Lorie Lance died in a fire in Old Hickory, Tennessee. Her boyfriend, Claude Garrett, awoke to find his and Lorie’s living room on fire. He woke Lorie up and ran for the door, but Lorie suddenly turned and ran toward the back of the house. She died of smoke inhalation.

Twice, the state of Tennessee argued that Claude set that fire. Investigators said they smelled kerosene at the fire scene, which they found suspicious. A special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) examined the remains of the fire and said he saw a “pour pattern” on the floor – which he insisted meant the fire was arson. And, the utility door at the back of the house seemed to have been locked from the outside, supposedly trapping Lorie.

Claude was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed and was retried. Again, he was convicted.

Now, we know that both of those convictions were wrongful. The case that was built against Claude relied primarily on that ATF investigator who thought he saw a pour pattern. But the method he used and the conclusions he drew were based on now-debunked science.

Moreover, the police withheld a report from the defense that showed the utility door had actually been unlocked. Smoke deposits proved it.

The entire case was made of smoke and mirrors

How do we know that? Top fire investigators from around the country have testified in Claude’s defense that the ATF investigator was wrong to conclude there was a pour pattern and, in fact, that pour patterns are a myth altogether.

The first fire scientist to believe Claude was Stuart Bayne. From the moment he first studied the evidence against Claude, Bayne knew there had been a huge miscarriage of justice. He fought for two decades alongside the Tennessee Innocence Project to prove that Claude had been wrongly convicted. He led the charge for an exoneration, convinced that the ATF investigator had not even followed the best science 1992 had to offer but also that fire science has advanced significantly since that time.

On May 10, after 30 years behind bars, Claude was released. Not only did the Innocence Project and the fire scientists believe in Claude’s innocence, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office’s relatively new Conviction Review Unit also came to believe it. That unit supported his release and his conviction being vacated.

On the day Claude was let out, Stuart Bayne was there. He shook Claude’s hand and then the men hugged. “Welcome to the free world,” Bayne said.


FindLaw Network

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)