Judge's ruling weeks away in 1995 Naperville murder, arson case
Is William Amor a coldblooded killer out to recoup a $100,000 life insurance policy taken out by his mother-in-law?
Or was he the victim of overzealous cops intent on closing a horrific fatal fire investigation by fingering him as the villain?
DuPage County Judge Liam Brennan will make that call at 10 a.m. Feb 21 when he rules on Amor's nearly two-week bench trial that concluded Friday evening.
Brennan, at the close of trial, said he needs time to review his notes and evidence.
Amor was convicted of arson and murder in 1997 in connection with the 1995 death of his mother-in-law, Marianne Miceli, in a fire at a Naperville apartment.
But Brennan vacated that conviction last April after ruling that advances in fire science proved the description Amor gave in his confession to police was impossible.
Amor has been free on $100,000 bail since last May awaiting his second trial.
Prosecutors James Scaliatine and Thomas Minser, in their closing arguments Friday, insisted that just because experts debunked how Amor confessed to starting the fire -- by dousing the Sunday paper with a mixed Vodka drink and dropping a cigarette on it -- doesn't mean he didn't somehow ignite the blaze.
And they say Amor, 40 years old at the time, unemployed and down on his luck, was counting on killing Marianne Miceli to collect her life insurance policy to jump-start a better life for himself and his 18-year-old bride, Tina Miceli.
"He was miserable. His situation was untenable and he wanted out," Minser said after playing a snippet of Amor's confession to Naperville police. "And his way out was to murder Marianne Miceli."
As for the confession, "Believe him when he told you he's a murderer," Minser told Brennan.
That confession, Amor's attorneys say, was coerced from a highly suggestible man who had just lost his home, all his belongings, his mother-in-law and, ultimately, his marriage when he was served divorce papers during his interrogation.
His attorneys, from the Illinois Innocence Project, say science shows the fire would have reached a fatal level much sooner than the estimated 20 minutes it took if Amor had ignited it.
Instead, they and their experts pointed to a theory that a small fire, possibly from a careless smoker, could have smoldered for as long as five hours before finally erupting into the fatal blaze.
"There's no way to rule out an accidental fire in this case," defense attorney Tara Thompson said in her closing argument. "That's at least reasonable doubt. Science gives us reasonable doubt."
First responders, affected by the fatal tragedy, were eager to solve the case, she said.
"They answered the questions of this fire with a villain and they were wrong," Thompson said.
On the day of her death, prosecutors say Marianne Miceli was napping and woke around 6:40 p.m. to find the apartment on fire. She called 911, saying she couldn't escape and was being overcome by smoke. Experts say they believe she became incapacitated by smoke about one minute into the call when she stopped responding to the operator.
Authorities say Amor and his wife, Tina Miceli, had left the apartment just 20 minutes earlier to go to a drive-in movie showing of "Babe."
When Brennan rules, he will decide whether to set Amor free or return him to prison to finish serving his original sentence.