Another False Conviction
When a person is being investigated for or accused of a serious crime, the public is often quick to assume that the accused is guilty. And unfortunately, accusations are sometimes enough to ruin a person’s reputation.
This was the case with Sonia Cacy.
Twenty-five years ago, Sonia Cacy was accused of the arson-murder of her uncle.
It was a crime she did not commit.
On November 2nd, 2016, the now 68-year-old Sonia Cacy was exonerated by Texas’ highest criminal court.
Cacy’s ordeal began on November 10th, 1991, when a fire engulfed the home that Cacy shared with her uncle Bill Richardson. She was able to escape the fire through her bedroom window.
She knocked on neighbors’ doors, seeking help for her 75-year-old uncle who was still in the house. She herself frantically tried to get back inside to rescue him. But to no avail. Her uncle ultimately died in the blaze.
That might have been the end of the story, but the fact that there had been previous unexplained fires in the house led to completely unfounded speculation that Cacy had set them in order to test the response time of the local fire department.
When fire investigators found a specific burn pattern on the living room floor and a toxicologist with the medical examiner’s claimed to have discovered traces of an accelerant on Richardson’s clothes, that sealed the accusation for Cacy.
Sonia Cacy was tried for murder and, after just two hours of jury deliberation, was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
What no one seemed to address during the trial was that there was ample evidence that the fire was accidental. Her uncle was known to have smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day.
He was also known to use a small propane torch to roast marshmallows. Furthermore, his clothes and sheets were riddled with burn holes.
These facts were largely ignored. And while Sonia Cacy insisted she was innocent, no one would listen.
No one, that is, until legendary Austin-based chemist Gerald Hurst decided to look at her case in 1996. He believed she was innocent and that, based on the autopsy reports showing severe cardiac disease, Richardson had died of a sudden heart attack. This theory was further bolstered by the fact that his lungs were filled not with soot, but with fluid.
Cacy was granted a new sentencing hearing with Hurst testifying in her defense. Again, to no avail.
The second jury was even more punitive, giving Cacy a 99-year prison sentence.
Fortunately, Hurst enlisted additional fire experts and in 1998 the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles agreed that Cacy should be paroled, just six years after she was convicted.
While parole was better than incarceration, Cacy’s reputation as a murderer was its own prison – strongly limiting her ability to find work and a place to live. Simply winning an appeal or being granted parole does not mean that someone is free.
November’s long-overdue exoneration was good news for Cacy though, who is ill and has been in and out of the hospital over the last several months.
This means she may now apply for compensation and other benefits like health care; a benefit she’d been denied for the nearly quarter of a century that she was falsely labeled a murderer. Sometimes a little justice takes a long time to achieve.
If you’ve been wrongly accused of a crime you didn’t commit, take action and get a criminal defense lawyer who’ll work hard to ensure you don’t lose your reputation. Or anything else.
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