In May 2016, Angela Garcia did the unthinkable: She pleaded guilty to setting a fire that killed her 2-year-old and 3-year-old daughters, Nijah and Nyeemah, 16 years earlier. Liliana Segura reveals the innards of the Cleveland woman's case for the Intercept, exploring why so many—her lawyer, her family, arson experts—believed in her innocence, while prosecutors tried to paint her as a promiscuous woman driven by lust for insurance money and the desire to run off with her fiance. "She treated the fire that killed her two children like it was the lottery," prosecutors once noted. Why Garcia had so many supporters: After two hung juries, her 2001 conviction (which led to a sentence of life in prison, with a parole chance after almost 50 years) was believed by some to be the result of "junk science," circumstantial evidence, a shoddy investigation, and even locally based racism.
Segura notes Garcia's story isn't unique: Recent advances in fire science have debunked longtime beliefs in the industry and led to previous convictions being overturned. Dr. Richard Roby, one of the expert witnesses who spoke on Garcia's behalf at her last trial, also shakes his head when describing how people judged Garcia for supposedly not being able to get her kids out of the burning home. "Believe it or not, your muscles will seize up … and your brain will make you get the hell out of there," he notes. "But people all think, 'If it was my kid, I would walk through concrete walls to save them.'" Garcia won a new evidentiary hearing in 2015, but before that hearing could happen, she was offered the plea deal, which could get her out in six years instead of heading to another trial and another possible guilty verdict. More on her story at the Intercept. (A Texas man earned a retrial based on new fire science.)