Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Intentionally started a fire - To collect $40,000 in insurance
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: November 20, 1999
Date of arrest: February 23, 2000
Date of birth: 1976
Victim profile: Her daughters Nyeemah Garcia, 3, and Nijah Evans, 2
Method of murder: Smoke inhalation
Location: Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to two life terms in prison on May 30, 2001
photo gallery

Court of Appeals of Ohio
Eighth District - Cuyahoga County

State of Ohio v. Angela Garcia

United States Court of Appeals
For the Sixth Circuit

Angela Garcia v. Patricia Andrews, Warden

In the Court of Common Pleas
Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence

Fire-ex Forensics

Amended report

The Plain Dealer

Angela Garcia archives

Woman convicted in 2001 of setting fire that killed two daughters asks for new trial

By Rachel Dissell - The Plain Dealer

January 02, 2014

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cleveland mother sentenced to two life terms in prison after a jury found she set a fire that killed her two young daughters is asking for a new trial.

Lawyers for Angela Garcia, who was 24 when sent to prison in 2001, say arson investigators who testified at her trial relied on flawed fire investigation techniques that have since been debunked.

Garcia was convicted in the deaths of her daughters Nyeemah Garcia, 3, and Nijah Evans, 2, after a third trial. Two prior juries were unable to decide unanimously whether she had intentionally set the fire, though one of the juries found her guilty of fraudulently overvaluing the items in her home.

Her daughters died of smoke inhalation after firefighters pulled them out of an upstairs bedroom of their Harvard Avenue home on Nov. 20, 1999.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office has until Jan. 21 to respond. Common Pleas Judge Michael Astrab will then decide whether to grant the motion for a new trial.

Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said Thursday that his office is reviewing the motion.

"We take claims of newly discovered evidence very seriously," McGinty said through a spokesperson. "We will examine this case, as we do others, as they come to us."

More than a decade ago, prosecutors contended that Garcia set her rental home ablaze and trapped her daughters inside in order to collect $40,000 in insurance.

Garcia is currently first eligible for parole in 2049.

In a court filing, Assistant State Public Defender Joanna Feigenbaum argues Garcia deserves a new trial based on unreliable fire "science" and new scientific evidence. Feigenbaum, relying on a series of studies, reports and a fire investigation expert, contends the original testimony on how the fire started is highly questionable.

Cleveland Fire Department arson investigators initially determined that the fire was accidental – likely started by a large unattended candle -- after viewing the home and after a trained dog didn't detect any accelerants, or flammable liquids.

The home was demolished two days after the fire and no evidence was collected or preserved for laboratory testing.

The cause of the blaze was changed a month later after investigators learned Garcia had overvalued the contents of her home on a renter's insurance claim and Garcia was indicted on charges including aggravated murder, manslaughter and insurance fraud.

During the trial, prosecutors and witnesses questioned Garcia's perceived lack of emotions and varying stories as to how she escaped the intense fire while her children remained inside. In addition, during the third trial a jailhouse snitch testified that Garcia said she had set two fires in order to collect insurance money.

Garcia and her family members maintained she was innocent throughout her three trials, as did her attorneys, who said she passed multiple polygraph tests.

"We're 100 percent sure of her innocence," said Thomas E. Shaughnessy in 2001 after his client was convicted. A later court appeal based mainly on how the trial was conducted was not successful. That appeal did not bring up the fire investigation techniques.

Since 2001, arson science has evolved considerably, from more of an "art" to an actual science, Garcia's lawyers say. More is now understood about what causes some fires to burn more intensely or spread more rapidly based not only on how they start but the materials a home is made of or contains.

The nationally accepted changes have led to new techniques for investigating fires– and number of arson-related criminal convictions being overturned across the country.

A national fire expert and author who reviewed the fire investigation and testimony in Garcia's case said the conclusions reached by fire investigators where not based on scientific reasoning and that the cause and origin of the fire should be considered undetermined.

Garcia's lawyers point out in the filing that between the second and third trials, different fire investigators testified, including adding a new location of a second fire and new theory based on photographs that accelerants had been used.

"It is now known that the reasoning and conclusions of the State's arson experts were wrong," attorney Feigenbaum wrote in the motion filed last month. "A review of Ms. Garcia's case using the dictates of modern fire science shows that the conclusions of the original fire investigators as to the cause and origin of the fire were based upon flawed and outdated assumptions that were not tested by the scientific process, and that numerous potential accidental causes, including the home's electrical system, were not properly considered or eliminated before the fire was deemed to be incendiary."




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