The case against John Maloney began in error, was compounded by fraud, and brought to fruition by collusion and deceit.
Milwaukee Asst. ME John Teggatz, who was given a deceased, badly burned body with no context, no medical or social history, mistook tardieu spots for petechiae. Tardieu spots are small blood spots formed after death by lividity, that is, the body's position upon death. Petechiae are caused when small blood vessels are ruptured due to force such as strangulation. There were no other indications of strangulation, so Dr. Teggatz's opinion was tentative: "Probable manual strangulation." But that was enough for Wis. Dept. of Justice criminal investigators, Kim Skorlinski and Greg Eggum.
If it was murder, the fire had to be arson. After digging through the debris for 12 days, there was still no evidence of a set fire -- so agent Eggum invented it. He portrayed "run marks" from burning, melting sofa cushion fill as "pour patterns" from using a liquid accelerant to set the fire. (An accelerant is a substance, usually liquid, that makes a fire burn faster.) To back up his claim, agent Eggum reported conducting an undocumented burn test in which he set fire to a piece of the polyurethane foam cushion. He said the foam held a flame but did not "run." That's like saying that the sun rose, but it came up in the west, a blatant misstatement of scientific fact. Agent Eggum bet that jurors wouldn't get it, and they didn't.
Agent Eggum was not deterred when the crime lab could find no trace of the petroleum-based products normally used to start fire -- gasoline, kerosene, lighter fluid, charcoal lighter and the like. There were so many empty vodka bottles littering Sandy's home that it was an easy substitute. Agent Eggum could be fairly sure most people wouldn't realize that 80-proof vodka is 60% water, and works better to put out a fire than to start one. But just in case, at trial he testified to another undocumented burn test. He said he lit 80-proof vodka, and that it burned "very hot and very fast." He was right. The jurors didn't catch it.
Independent experts have reviewed this case, pro bono, and agree that there was no murder, no arson. But none of the real evidence has been heard by any court.
A 2005 CBS 48 Hours segment by reporter Susan Spencer took a closer look at the scientific foundation for the state's claim that the Maloney fire was arson -- a claim the state has vigorously refused to re-examine.
Click the program title to read the summary:
John Maloney needs a lawyer, but his family's finances have been wiped out. Please help pay for defense costs with your generous donation.
"A particularly difficult-to-correct criminal injustice results when a person is convicted of a crime that did not actually occur. In their compelling new book, Full Circle - How a Veteran Cop was Sentenced to Life for Crimes That Never Happened, Sheila Martin Berry and Doug Berry prompt troubling questions about a high-profile Wisconsin case that resulted in the conviction of police detective John Maloney for the murder of his former wife, Sandy.
"At a time when past arson scientific testimony is being discredited by contemporary forensic science, Full Circle asks: Was John Maloney rightfully convicted of murder or was Sandy Maloney's death accidental? Full Circle reminds us that wrongful conviction can happen to anyone."
-Jim Petro, former Ohio Attorney General, and Nancy Petro, co-authors, False Justice - Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent