Expert: 'Smoldering cigarette' likely the cause of fatal 1995 Naperville fire

 
 
Updated 1/29/2018 10:42 PM
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  • William Amor, standing, and his attorneys Lauren Kaeseberg and Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, behind, listen to Assistant State's Attorney Thomas Minser's opening statement at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Amor is on trial for first-degree murder and arson in the 1995 death of his mother-in-law in Naperville.

      William Amor, standing, and his attorneys Lauren Kaeseberg and Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, behind, listen to Assistant State's Attorney Thomas Minser's opening statement at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Amor is on trial for first-degree murder and arson in the 1995 death of his mother-in-law in Naperville. Daniel White | Staff Photographer

A cigarette smoldering in a polyurethane recliner was likely the cause of a 1995 fire that killed a 40-year-old Naperville woman, a fire expert testified Monday at the murder and arson trial of the woman's former son-in-law.

Douglas Carpenter, vice president of Maryland-based Combustion Science and Engineering, Inc., testified Monday that a discarded cigarette left smoldering in Marianne Miceli's recliner was likely the cause of the Sept. 10, 1995, fire that caused the toxic smoke that killed Miceli.

"It's the most scientifically reliable conclusion you can come to," Carpenter told Judge Liam Brennan as he walked defense attorneys through a 52-page report he generated on the fire.

The report also featured a timeline that estimated 20 minutes had passed between the time Amor left Miceli's apartment that night and the time Miceli called 911 and said she was "overcome with smoke."

Had the chair caught fire from the open flame Amor confessed to setting, Carpenter said Miceli would have been overcome within only a few minutes.

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 of his 45-year sentence and was expected to be paroled in March.

Carpenter also testified in a December 2016 hearing, which led to Amor's original conviction being overturned, that fire science engineers "have a much better understanding of things related to fire investigation and pattern development" than they did 20 years ago.

He also previously said he relied on the "facts and body of scientific knowledge related to the fire" to conclude the fire was accidental, rather than incendiary.

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, Tina.

Carpenter also reiterated Monday that vodka would not accelerate a fire lit by a burning cigarette and a newspaper.

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

Carpenter resumes the witness stand Tuesday morning to be cross-examined by prosecutors.

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