A Michigan man, Victor Caminata, 39, who spent more than 4 years in prison for an arson he didn’t commit, was exonerated Wednesday, when his case was dismissed by a Wexford County judge, William Fagerman.  Victor Caminata was convicted of setting the house he shared with his former girlfriend on fire in 2008 and sentenced to 9 to 40 years in prison.

Caminata told Cadillac News, “I’m just glad my name was cleared and this is over with… . This was a long road for everybody.”

Caminata’s road to vindication began in 2011 when he contacted the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which takes pro bono cases where there is “significant” evidence of wrongful conviction.  He requested they review his case.  Dave Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, said Caminata’s case was familiar to them because one of their staff members was involved in his 2009 trial.

“We only take cases when we are confident the person is innocent and we can prove that…” Moran said.

During review, the clinic discovered photographic evidence of what was previously considered torch marks at his original trial, which were actually telltale signs of an accidental chimney fire.  The clinic also looked at additional evidence that wasn’t used at trial that could be used to overturn his conviction.  In Caminata’s original trial, two experts told the jury that the scorch marks were purposely inflicted.  The prosecution’s case was further supported by testimony from his former girlfriend who said they were breaking up, which provided Caminata a motive.

In July, Moran met with members of the Attorney General’s Office for an evidentiary hearing.  Before the hearing was held, the defense was informed that the prosecution was in possession of “newly discovered evidence” that reclassified the cause of the fire from arson to “undetermined.”  The evidence for the change was in the form of photographs that showed puffed creosote, which is a sign of chimney fire, not arson.  In addition, photographs also showed that some of the evidence used against Caminata at his original trial was moved after the fire causing incorrect conclusions to be made by investigators.

Following 3 hours of closed-door discussions, Lauryl Scott, an attorney with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, addressed the judge saying that Caminata had a “reasonable likelihood of acquittal,” and the court vacated his sentence and released him on his own recognizance, but he was told to return for retrial.  Wednesday, at a pre-trial hearing, Scott announced it was the Attorney General’s position that the case should be dismissed with prejudice, meaning Caminata cannot be retried and “without the necessity of a hearing.”

Caminata’s sister, Mary Holmes, said she wasn’t worried when the AG requested a retrial because of the overwhelming photographic evidence that conflicted with the original expert testimony.

Caminata said he also wasn’t too concerned, “I knew the truth.”

Attorney James Samuels, who took the case when a retrial was requested, said arson exonerations have become more common as the result of improved scientific methods.  Standards were not followed by the fire investigators in Caminata’s case.  Despite spending 4 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Caminata said he isn’t dwelling and just wants to spend more time with his family, friends, and children.

Caminata found work doing construction following his release.  He is currently, “making the best of every day.”


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