Board rejects mercy for condemned Ohio arsonist

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A death row inmate on Wednesday lost his latest hope for arguing that a mysterious "man in red" could have started the arson fire that killed his 3-year-old son.

Michael Webb doesn't dispute the 1990 blaze was arson, but he denies starting it and says investigators using now-discredited methods came to the wrong conclusion about where in the house the flames broke out. He says the correct determination points to someone else as the culprit.

Investigators say Webb set the fire to kill his family, collect the insurance and start a new life with his mistress.

The Ohio Parole Board on Wednesday unanimously rejected his plea for mercy in one of a series of cases around the U.S. that represent a new legal frontier: Defense attorneys are using advances in the science of fire investigation to challenge arson convictions, in much the same way they are employing DNA to clear those in prison for murder and rape.

The board said, "Given the overwhelming evidence of guilt, there is no manifest injustice in this case that would warrant the grant of executive clemency."

Gov. John Kasich has the final say on clemency for Webb, whose execution is on hold because of an unrelated lawsuit over lethal injection.

Research in recent decades has challenged long-held assumptions about how flames spread and the tell-tale signs they leave.