Methods used to investigate and declare the Sept. 10, 1995, fire that killed 40-year-old Marianne Miceli a murderous arson are mostly the same as methods used today, according to a federal investigator.
The testimony came on day four of William Amor's hearing in which he hopes to be granted a new trial.
Amor, 60, was convicted in 1997 of aggravated arson and the first-degree murder of Miceli, his mother-in-law. He has served nearly half his 45-year sentence and is expected to be paroled in March 2018, yet he's seeking a new trial.
Along with attorneys from the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield, Amor is hoping to convince Judge Liam Brennan that the fire investigators who ruled the fire an arson did so using "outdated and discredited techniques."
Defense witnesses who took the stand earlier this week supported that theory. But Senior Special Agent John Golder, who manages the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Certified Fire Investigator program testified for the state Thursday that he determined the fire to be incendiary and not accidental. He also agreed with most of the original investigation's findings.
"The scientific method and other elements of the investigation were exactly what we do today," Golder said. "The main difference is, I feel, (original investigators) did not account for were the analysis of some of the burn patterns."
In a tape-recorded confession at the time of his arrest, Amor said he started the fire to collect insurance money when he spilled vodka onto a Sunday newspaper, then dropped a cigarette on it to light it, and left with his wife.
Amor's attorneys have maintained the confession was coerced.
Golder said Thursday that not only would a cigarette not ignite a newspaper and vodka, but that lab-tested samples found no ignitable liquids.
Within 20 minutes of Amor and his wife leaving the apartment, the napping Miceli awoke and called 911, saying she could not get out of the burning apartment and was being overcome by smoke.
A dispatcher told her to get low to the floor, but she started coughing and died in her bedroom from smoke inhalation, with the phone cord wrapped around her.
The hearing, believed to be the first of its kind in Illinois involving advancements in fire investigation, is expected to continue Friday morning. Prosecutors expect to put on the rest of their evidence Friday. It is unclear whether Judge Liam Brennan would rule immediately at the conclusion of the hearing or at a later date.