Texas Woman's Murder Conviction Reviewed by Court

A hearing to review a Texas woman's long-disputed murder conviction for setting her uncle on fire ended Tuesday without an immediate decision on whether the conviction should be overturned.

Sonia Cacy's attorneys presented evidence from several experts who say there was no proof of gasoline on her uncle's clothing, as jurors who convicted her were told.

A state panel has discredited the fire investigation in Cacy's case, saying the fire that killed her uncle, Bill Richardson, should not have been ruled an arson. Prosecutors in Pecos County maintain there is enough evidence outside of the fire investigation to support her conviction.

Judge Bert Richardson of San Antonio said he wouldn't rule on the case for a few months, attorneys said. Richardson could recommend that Cacy's conviction be overturned, though the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would make any final determination on her case.

"I don't know exactly what the result will be," Cacy said in a telephone interview after the hearing ended. "The judge, it appeared to me like he was on our side."

Fire investigation experts have long argued that cases such as Cacy's deserve further review because they rested on incorrect assumptions about the differences between accidental fires and arson.

Cacy, 66, was convicted in 1993 of murdering her uncle at the small house they shared in Fort Stockton. She was given 99 years in prison, but paroled in 1998, after just five years.

Jurors then heard from a San Antonio expert who reviewed tests on Richardson's clothing and found evidence of gasoline. But several experts who have seen those test results now say that expert misread the tests, and there was no proof of gasoline.

The original expert, Joe Castorena, testified at this week's hearing and said that he read the initial tests correctly. Two experts called by Cacy's attorneys argued that Castorena was wrong.

Prosecutors have also raised questions about Cacy's behavior during the fire and her potential motive as the sole beneficiary of her uncle's will.

District Attorney Rod Ponton said after the hearing that the county "always wants to ensure fairness to all persons accused of a crime."

Innocence Project of Texas president Gary Udashen, one of Cacy's attorneys, said Cacy's conviction could not stand.

"Without the science, there is no case," Udashen said after the hearing. If there's no gasoline poured on Bill Richardson's clothes, there is no murder. There is no case. They're focused on things that make no difference at all."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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