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updated: 2/1/2018 6:16 PM

Defense rests in 1995 Naperville murder arson trial

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  • Closing arguments are expected Friday in the murder trial of William Amor, left, shown here with his attorney Lauren Myerscough-Mueller.

      Closing arguments are expected Friday in the murder trial of William Amor, left, shown here with his attorney Lauren Myerscough-Mueller.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

The defense of William Amor rested Thursday following testimony from another fire science expert who tried to debunk the theory that Amor intentionally set a fatal 1995 fire by dropping a cigarette on vodka-soaked newspapers.

Amor, 63, was convicted in 1997 of aggravated arson and the first-degree murder of his mother-in-law, Marianne Miceli, in a Naperville apartment fire.

He was released from prison on $10,000 bail in May 2017 after DuPage County Judge Liam Brennan overturned his conviction because of new scientific evidence. At the time, Amor already had served nearly half his 45-year sentence and was expected to be paroled this March. His retrial began last week.

David Smith, a fire and explosion expert who also serves as mayor of Bisbee, Arizona, testified Thursday that he agrees with previous experts who believe the cause of the fatal fire should be considered "undetermined."

After reviewing hundreds of pieces of data, Smith said he was able to determine the fire started in a corner of the living room that contained a swivel chair, a recliner, a couch and a wood coffee table.

He could not, however, identify the exact point of ignition.

Smith said using a cigarette to ignite paper soaked in vodka, which is 60 percent water, is a "scientific impossibility and a physical impossibility."

Smith said he found "zero evidence" any accelerant was used to start the fire.

"The absence of any evidence leaves us with nothing to rely on," he said.

When pressed by prosecutors if it was possible for an accelerant to be used and the evidence destroyed in the fire, Smith snapped back.

"It's possible a meteorite came down and struck, but there's no evidence of that either," he said.

In April, Brennan vacated Amor's 1997 murder conviction on charges he intentionally ignited the September 1995 fire at the apartment he shared with his then-18-year-old wife, Tina Miceli, and her mother. Marianne Miceli was killed in the blaze after becoming trapped in a bedroom.

On the day of her death, authorities say Marianne Miceli was napping and woke to find the apartment on fire. She called 911, saying she couldn't escape and was being overcome by smoke.

Authorities say Amor and Tina Miceli had left the apartment just 20 minutes earlier.

Prosecutors maintain there is sufficient evidence to convict Amor a second time and have referenced a financial motive involving Amor's desire to no longer live with his mother-in-law.

Prosecutors are expected to call Senior Special Agent John Golder, who manages the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Certified Fire Investigator program, on Friday morning to rebut testimony presented by defense witnesses.

Golder first testified in a December 2016 hearing, which led to Amor's conviction being overturned, that he determined the fire to be incendiary and not accidental or undetermined. 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 testified in 2016.

The main difference, he said, was that the original investigators did not account for some of the burn patterns.

Defense attorney Lauren Kaeseberg said she expects to again seek a directed finding of not guilty at the conclusion of Golder's testimony and prior to closing arguments, which are expected to begin shortly after 1:30 p.m. Friday.

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