Ark. Court Reverses Woman’s Arson for Insurance Conviction

June 21, 2007

The Arkansas Court of Appeals dismissed a Hot Spring County woman’s arson conviction, ruling that prosecutors did not offer proof other than a disputed confession that she set fire to her home.

Barbara Fowler was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a Hot Spring County Circuit Court found her guilty of felony arson. During her trial, prosecutors presented a confession she gave to police, but Fowler recanted the statement, and several witnesses testified that she had stated her intentions to burn down her property.

In the disputed confession, Fowler told police how she carried out the fire, complete with a diagram of the room where she set the fire.

Prosecutors also presented evidence showing that Fowler was in bankruptcy and that her pending divorce would substantially reduce her annual income. According to the ruling, prosecutors presented evidence that Fowler had discussed burning down the house for insurance money and that she moved many of her personal possessions to a storage facility before the fire.

The court ruled that prosecutors may have offered evidence showing suspicious activity but failed to prove that Fowler set the fire.

“Although we are satisfied that the State presented ample evidence to support a conclusion that Fowler intended to burn her house down, without Fowler’s supporting confession, the State failed to carry its burden of proving that Fowler actually carried out the act,” Judge Larry D. Vaught wrote in the ruling.

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