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.