Update Hina Murders: A New Hampshire fire investigator says he doesn’t believe a lit cigarette started the fire that killed a Keene family of four in an adjacent apartment in 1989.
Lawyers for 54-year-old David McLeod are in court challenging evidence prosecutors say shows that McLeod set the fire that killed a newlywed couple, their 4-month-old daughter and the man’s 12-year-old daughter.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Caroline Smith, Norton acknowledged his conclusions were influenced by reports that McLeod had threatened to burn down the house where his ex-girlfriend was living. Witnesses quote McLeod as saying after the fire that he “torched the whorehouse.”
Smith challenged Norton’s conclusions that the fire started on the couch and that a carelessly discarded cigarette did not cause it. She said his investigation pre-dated the 1991 inception of national standards for arson investigations.
Federal fire investigators who analyzed photos of the fire last year concluded that char patterns in Walker’s apartment cannot be relied on because the apartment combusted in a “flashover” fire of intense heat. In response to additional challenges to his conclusions by Smith, Norton testified, “They didn’t have the first-hand experience…the ability to see everything in 3-D.”
The evidentiary hearing resumed today. It is being held in Newport because that’s where the judge assigned to the case is sitting.
There does not appear to be a connection, if any, David McLeod had with the Hina family, New Hampshire authorities said. A retired Keene police detective said that investigators at that time believed that David McLeod started that fire in 1989 to get back at his then-girlfriend and a man who may or may not have had a relationship with her. Both his suspected targets lived in the eight-unit building where the Hinas died.
It will be interesting to read more about the forensic arson investigations in this case. The situation resembles the case of Kenneth Richey, a former death row case from the state of Ohio. Richey too was accused of setting a fire to get back at a former girlfriend and her current partner. In that fire, a two year old child died of smoke inhalation.