State drops charges in 1995 fire that resulted in death of 3-year-old son of Kristine Bunch

Attorneys don't condemn state for bringing charges

INDIANAPOLIS - Charges have been dismissed against a woman who served 16 years in prison after she was convicted of setting a fire that killed her 3-year-old son, the woman's attorneys said Tuesday.

Prosecutors filed a motion Monday to dismiss charges against Kristine Bunch, and the motion was granted Tuesday, according to a release from the Schiff Hardin law office.

"We are extremely happy that the state has dismissed the charge against Kristine," read a statement from the attorneys. "She is innocent. As the Indiana Appellate Court ruled months ago, a jury hearing all of the evidence likely would have found Kristine not guilty."

Bunch spent 16 years in prison after her original conviction. A new trial had been ordered for her. Her original sentence in 1996 was for 60 years.

Prosecutors said Bunch poured kerosene or some other fuel in the bedroom of her son, Anthony, and the living room of their mobile home and lit it on fire.

But attorneys working with the Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions said science discovered since the 1990s shows that fuel couldn't have been used and that other possible causes were ignored.

"We do not condemn the state for bringing arson-related charges in 1995. That was the equivalent of the Stone Ages for arson investigations," Bunch's attorneys said. "Today, we know so much more about the science of fire. As the new evidence offered by world-renowned experts showed, Kristine could not have set this fire as the state contended. The fire was accidental."

A Supreme Court ruling earlier this year meant the case would automatically be returned to the Decatur Circuit Court, where the state could have retried it or tossed it.

"Kristine lost her precious son, Tony, in this accidental fire. She then lost 16 years of her freedom. The depth of that tragedy is unthinkable," her attorneys said. "Today is the first day she can begin to heal."

Bunch has been out of prison since August, when a judge let her post bond while prosecutors reviewed the case.

Though she spent almost two decades behind bars, Bunch said she never gave up hope.

"I knew that it was going to work out in the end," she said. "I had a lot of support."

Bunch said it was a blessing to be able to tell her 16-year-old son -- to whom she gave birth while in prison -- that she is out for good.

"He said, 'So, you're free, they can't come back and take you away?' I said, 'That's right.'"

Bunch said she is not angry with the prosecutors who helped put her away.

"They did their job," she said. "That's what they're elected for."

Now, Bunch is planning to take the LSAT and become an attorney, all while striving to never take the little things for granted.

"Being able to be outside, being able to go get in the car, being able to hug my son, watch him sleep... Those are things people don't realize how special they are," she said.

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