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Bad science results in dropped arson charges for 2, overturned convictions for 2 others

New Haven

Charges have been dropped for two arson suspects facing decades in prison and convictions overturned for their two co-defendants. The shocking legal moves are thanks to what defense lawyers called “bad science.”

Attorney Gregory Cerritelli represents the alleged mastermind, 63-year-old Delores Lee. She was busted in 2016, accused of hiring a trio of firebugs from New York to burn down a rental home she owned when the tenant stopped paying rent.

Lee faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years locked up until prosecutors found a problem with evidence testing methods used by Dr. Jack Hubball, a now-retired state forensic scientist at the Division of Scientific Services.

Hubball initially found traces of an accelerant during his analysis of evidence.  But retesting by new chemists at the state crime lab turned up no accelerant, Cerritelli said he was told by prosecutors.

“The state’s case collapsed and, again, I credit the state’s attorney in Milford because once they realized there was a problem with the case, they immediately notified us,” Cerritelli told News 8’s Mario Boone.    

The case is sending shock waves through Connecticut’s legal system.  “I think every member of the criminal bar in Connecticut is aware now as a result of this,” Cerritelli explained.

Related: New technology leads police to suspect in cold case of Connecticut girl

It also comes as the Connecticut Supreme Court recently overturned two murder convictions in a separate case plaguing renowned forensic expert and former Connecticut crime lab head, Dr. Henry Lee.  

A spokesman for the state crime lab where Hubball worked denied dozens of arson convictions tied to Hubball’s testimony are now potentially in jeopardy.

“No, we don’t believe so, Mario,” said spokesman Brian Foley.  “We believe the testing was proper.  Everything that was done was proper, as well,” he continued.

Regarding the new test results showing no accelerant, Foley explained, “that would be very common that there would be two different findings.  That evidence, you only get one bite at the apple, and some of that evidence is very limited as to how much you have.  It’s also subject to evaporation, accelerants are,” Foley said.

A spokesman for the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney released a statement saying, “we are aware of the matter and are reviewing it.”

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