Monday, June 09, 2008

Governor's Mansion Fire: What's your alibi?

Proving your innocence in the face of false accusations may be a lot harder than it seems. For instance, just before 2 p.m. on Sunday morning an arsonist set fire to Texas' antebellum Governor's mansion in downtown Austin. I can prove I was in New Orleans when it happened, though no one else was with me at precisely that time. If you were wrongly accused of this crime, would you have an alibi? Can you prove where you were at 2 a.m. Sunday morning? The last time I asked a similar question, 20% of Grits readers said they could not.

A corollary question: Is your alibi a family member or close personal friend? If so, investigators and a jury may disbelieve them anyway.

UPDATE: Fort Worth Star Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy interviews an arson investigator who thinks the fire may have been accidental. Another reminder that many past arson convictions have been based on flawed forensic science.

Photo via KVUE


Anonymous said...

Yup, without an alibi from a disinterested party the circumstancial evidence looks pretty good to the investigator. Enough so they he can go on to build a case based on even more flimsy, unreliable circumstancial evidence.

It's not their job to find the truth, just to play out a rediculous Hollywood standard of pursuing the crook on the basis of a "hunch" and from there to invent evidence. It happens every day and prisons are full of people wrongly convicted on this pretense.

Unless you are on deathrow and find a means of applying DNA evidence and then get really lucky, you are just screwed.

Michael said...

Well, we know Cedric Benson didn't do it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So me and Cedric are in the clear, Michael, but where were you, pal? ;)

Anonymous said...

Ft Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy doubts the fire was arson.

See "Arson theory doesn't hold water" at

PS. Welcome back

Bruce in Montana said...

I was here in Montana but I can't prove it. Dangit...the Texas Rangers are gonna find me a "person of interest".
Oh well, I'll just blame it on my "pervasive belief system".

Anonymous said...

I hope the arson investigators use state of the art science.

If it was arson, who benefits?

Anonymous said...

When do the condos go up?

Anonymous said...

I said on my blog from the get-go that the arson claim had yet to be proven. But nowadays the absence of factual information doesn't stand in the way of the sensationalist yellow journalism being passed off as reliable news reporting.

With all the construction taking place on the mansion, that was the first source of the fire that came to my mind.

Maybe this was a sign from God to the people of Texas. You reap what you sow. This state has a lot of hate and oppression to it.

Bud Kennedy said...

Thanks for the plug!

But I have a surprise --

One of your anonymous posters might be a suspect.

I'm serious. The comment was a long, menacing email that leveled demands and ended by quoting Matthew 23.

That verse wraps up: "Behind, your house is left unto you desolate." ...

Anonymous said...

I am a fire protection engineer and not an attorney. What I find interesting is DPS's story versus the 911 callers to Austin FD. I based this statement on the calls I heard tonight on KVUE.

I sense we had a trooper asleep at the switch, since the State of Texas relies on human monitoring of the Capital Complex rather than an automated proprietary fire alarm station.

This is a 150 year old building. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was involved in the renovation of the Capital. I have a high degree of probability the fire safety measures we employed then were not employed at the Governor's Mansion. It's most likely that the State Preservation Board no longer has its older retired (or unfortunately passed on) players watching over our icons.

And so it goes.

God bless Texas and the United States.

Anonymous said...

Bud Kennedy 09:56 -

The threat-comment you point to is indeed a chilling, deliberative, and professionally-written threat.

It is, though, directed at Kevin Dinnin, President of Baptist Child and Family Services, and other members of the BCFS.

Maybe they got the wrong address ... and were a day early on their 'deadline'.

Wow ... I see some off-the-wall stuff on the blog at times, but that message does stand out alright.

Anonymous said...

I think your hero Cedric Benson has an alibi...He was out making your last post about him look idiotic.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

My "hero" Cedric Benson, 6:41? Are you 12?

My post on his case critiqued the use of a podunk underqualified pseudoagency to police Lake Travis instead of real cops working for a legitimate department. Witnesses who weren't part of his group confirmed their behavior was over the top.

It wouldn't matter for the purposes of my argument if he were drunk as a pope. That doesn't relieve officers from their responsibility to behave professionally, or make the LCRA a real police agency.

That said, where were YOU Sunday morning 6:41 - evading the question implies guilt, right?

Anonymous said...

Isn't it up to investigators to prove the suspect's presence at the scene?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Right up until the moment you're accused, 8:15 - one of the lessons of all these recent DNA exonerations, not to mention the FLDS raid, is that any of us are potentially one false accusation away from a wrongful conviction.

Oh, btw Bud - I hadn't paid attention to that comment or checked the verses referenced. You're right, it's a doozy. If it had mentioned the Governor (and if the fire had happened on the 9th instead of the 8th) that person might well be a suspect. Hopefully it was just some loudmouth do-nothing crackpot and the BCFS folks didn't have any trouble yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

To anonymous 8:15, yes, theoretically one is innocent until prove guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This is great theory, but it just ain't so. If the authorities accuse you of something, the judge will instruct the jury that accusation does not create a presumption of guilt, but in the jurors' minds it does. And if you are accused, say, of setting that fire, you better be able to prove you didn't.

Anonymous said...

Why should I have to prove where I was? They are supposed to ptrove I was at the fire. Anyway we all know the building has high fences with spikes and video cameras as wll as guard. All they have to do is look at the videos or are they going to hide them the was the FBI hid the cameras shots at the Pentagon when they claimed a plane hit it on 911?

Why were the FBI first on the scene- that is always a sure sign they were involved in setting the fire. Did they want to make it "Reichtags" fire like Hitler did to clamp down on the Civil Liberties of the people of Austin? Why dont they let the Austin police handle it? Did they want to say "homegrown terrorists" did it like the wording in the upcoming bill 1959 in the US Senate? and therefore Austin should have a lock down? Are they mad Austin defeated the Patriots Act? Is this Austin's punishment?

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker again:

Anonymous 7:20, you shouldn't have to prove where you were. That's just the point, with the "culture of conviction" abroad in the land today, innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, is just a nice phrase. Arrest and indictment creates in the minds of jurors a presumption of guilt, no matter how many times judges and even prosecutors talk about the presumption of innocence. So, if you are accused, you better have some good proof of innocence lined up.

By the way, you might be interested in Alan Bean's blogs on the Alvin Clay trial. Go to

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker yet again:

Why the rush to the conclusion of arson. The publicity has created in the public mind the perception that it WAS arson. No evidence of arson has been published to my knowledge. Arson is always a consideration in any fire. I owned a rent house once that had a fire. There was no arson beyond some kids playing with matches, but I was an arson suspect. Fortunately for me, at that time there was no government interest in convicting me, so I was never charged.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 07:20 -

I'm not going to as nice as Charles Kiker.

Tabloid conspiracy theories about 9/11 are not part of the post-discussion.

Events surrounding the rise of Hitler are not remotely comparable to current events in Texas.

This kind of rhetoric is entirely unconstructive, and out of place.

Did you watch the recent 'performance' of John Lester? We don't need these paranoid flights of fantasy in the thread.

GritsforBreakfast provides a valuable service for us on this blog. Our contributions should match the quality demonstrated in Grits' posts.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

ioaxvcnlCharles Kiker again:

Ted, I agree totally that conspiracy theories regarding FBI and Reichstag being behind the fire are out of place, and more than that, counterproductive.

Anonymous said...

Update on arson expert opinion

The NY Times today quotes Bud Kennedy's arson expert, Gerald Hurst, as saying the fire was arson. Remember, Hurst said it probably wasn't arson when Kennedy quoted him.

From the NY Times article, it looks to me like Prof Hurst now has more evidence, so maybe the fire really was arson.

See NY Times article at

Anonymous said...

In today's Star-Telegram, Bud Kennedy backs off his earlier comments that the fire was not arson.