LMU Law Review to host Symposium focused on Forensic Science in Fire Investigations

Arson Investigation

The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law (LMU Law) and the LMU Law Review will host a symposium entitled, “Modern Forensic Science, Expert Testimony, and Exonerations as Applied to Fire Investigation,” on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in downtown Knoxville.

The event aims to inform and facilitate discussions about recent issues in fire and arson investigations raised by National Academies of Science (NAS) and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The symposium will help law enforcement, lawyers and judges make more informed decisions as to the admissibility of forensic science, identify attorney and judges’ ethical roles in keeping junk science out of the courtroom and explore the challenges in attempting to exonerate those wrongfully convicted based on bad forensic science.

Kristine BunchPanelists include exoneree Kristine Bunch, engineering professor Dr. David Icove, trial lawyer Druanne White, certified fire investigator Elizabeth Bur and forensic investigators John Lentini, Donna Ingram and Thomas May. A pair of presenters from the Tennessee Innocence Project, Executive Director Jessica Van Dyke and President Stephen Ross Johnson, will describe the challenges faced in attempting to exonerate those wrongly convicted and the importance of participation of practicing attorneys.

The symposium will be moderated by Jan Rader, who is West Virginia’s first female fire chief. She is featured on the Emmy Award winning Netflix documentary, “Heroin(e).” The morning session will include presentations from Bunch, Lentini, Icove and White, followed by a question and answer panel with all four presenters. The afternoon session features Buc, Ingram, May, Van Dyke and Johnson and will include a question and answer session.

Bunch spent 17 years in jail after she was arrested and charged with setting the 1995 fire that claimed the life of her three-year-old son. For a crime that science showed she did not commit, she was sentenced to 60 years for murder and 50 years for arson. Bunch will speak on the impact and hardships of incarceration. Lentini is one of a handful of people certified to conduct both fire scene investigations and fire debris analysis. He has conducted more than 2,000 fire scene inspections and has appeared as an expert witness on more than 200 occasions. He will reflect on past cases and illustrate common features of incorrect arson determinations. Icove is a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Engineering and he will address the current state of affairs to the reliability and validity of fire investigations. White, a successful trial lawyer, will discuss the problems and issues facing attorneys, prosecutors and judges who need to understand when to seek experts in defending arson and fire-related cases.

Buc, a licensed professional engineer and certified fire investigator with over 20 years of experience, will discuss what constitutes a scientific fire investigation and define and describe the process of developing scientifically testable hypotheses for forensic fire investigations. Ingram, an experienced fire investigator, will discuss the proper vetting of certified fire investigators, particularly those who are expected to testify as expert witnesses. May, a forensic investigator, author and educator, will discuss attorneys’ and judges’ ethical roles in determining what is a valid investigation versus “junk science.” Van Dyke and Johnson will explain the purpose and importance of the Tennessee Innocence Project.

The program, which will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., has been accepted for 5.5 CLE credit hours. The $45 admission fee includes lunch and CLE registration. The event may be streamed live or recorded for future use and publication. For more information and to pre-register for the event, contact April Hurley at 865.545.5339 or email [email protected].

The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law is located in Knoxville’s Historic Old City Hall Building. LMU Law is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community, and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of lawyers to provide sound legal service in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond. For more information about LMU Law, call 865.545.5303 or visit us online at Law.LMUnet.edu.

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