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updated: 1/31/2018 9:25 PM

Defense expert: Fire couldn't have started way man said it did in confession

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  • William Amor listens to opening statements at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton on Wednesday, January 24, 2018. Amor is on trial for charges of first-degree murder and arson in the 1995 death of his mother-in-law in Naperville.

      William Amor listens to opening statements at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton on Wednesday, January 24, 2018. Amor is on trial for charges of first-degree murder and arson in the 1995 death of his mother-in-law in Naperville.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

A second defense expert in the murder trial of William Amor said Wednesday that the 1995 Naperville fire that killed Amor's mother-in-law couldn't have started the way Amor said it did in his confession to police.

In a tape-recorded confession that led to his 1997 conviction, Amor told investigators he started the fire to kill his mother-in-law, Marianne Miceli, and collect insurance money. He told them he spilled vodka on a Sunday newspaper, dropped a cigarette to light it, and then left the condo with his wife, Tina Miceli.

Amor's attorneys from the Illinois Innocence Project maintain the confession was coerced by Naperville investigators with "tunnel vision" in seeking quick justice for the Miceli family.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Gregory DeClue, author of the 2005 book "Interrogations and Disputed Confessions: A Manual for Forensic Psychological Practice," testified Wednesday that he reviewed results of the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale test administered to Amor in 1997.

"(Amor) had a total suggestibility score of 18, which is a high score, in the 98th percentile," DeClue testified. "That means he exhibited more suggestibility than 98 percent of adults taking this test."

John DeHaan, a California arson science expert and author of a leading arson investigation textbook, testified earlier in the day that the result of his investigation into the Sept. 10, 1995, fire led him to believe the cause was "undetermined."

He did, however, rule out Amor's initial account.

"A lit cigarette igniting a vodka-soaked newspaper is a physical impossibility," DeHaan testified.

He also said it is highly unlikely a cigarette would ignite a fire if dropped or placed on a dry, flat newspaper.

"If the paper was crumpled up and the cigarette had sufficient prolonged contact, then yes, it could happen," he said. "It would have to be dropped between the surfaces of the paper."

DeHaan also testified that he determined the fire started in the area of the condo's living room where a polyurethane recliner, a swivel chair and a wood coffee table were located.

Douglas Carpenter, vice president of Maryland-based Combustion Science and Engineering, Inc., testified earlier this week that a discarded cigarette left smoldering in Marianne Miceli's recliner was likely the cause of the fire that caused the toxic smoke that killed her.

Amor, 63, was convicted in 1997 of aggravated arson and the first-degree murder of Miceli.

When he was released on $10,000 bail on May 31, 2017, he had served nearly half his 45-year sentence and was expected to be paroled in March.

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