Sonia Cacy, a former Fort Worth woman on parole after her 1993 conviction of murder in the death of her uncle, has been exonerated.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recommended on Wednesday that Cacy, of Port Aransas, be granted relief based on actual innocence.
Cacy, 69, was convicted of murdering Bill Richardson at the small house they shared in Fort Stockton by pouring accelerant on him and lighting him on fire. She was sentenced to 99 years in prison and was paroled in 1998 after serving five years.
Jurors at her initial trial heard from an expert who reviewed tests on her uncle’s clothing and found evidence of gasoline. But several experts who reviewed those results said that the first expert misread the tests and that there was no proof of gasoline on the clothing, said Gary Udashen, president of the Innocence Project of Texas.
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“There was no other evidence against her,” Udashen said “This is one of several examples of bad science in court. We have several examples of this type of situation that we are looking at now.”
Autopsy results also showed that Richardson’s blood did not have heavy amounts of carbon monoxide, as would be expected in someone who died of smoke inhalation. Instead, his body showed signs that he had died of a heart attack. He also had a history of setting accidental fires in his home, sometimes with lighted cigarettes.
A panel sponsored by the State Fire Marshal’s Office ruled in 2013 that the investigation did not meet “modern-day scientific standards” and that the cause of the fire should be listed as undetermined.
“She’s in very poor health and has been in poor health for a very long time,” Udashen said. “She has had a rough life as the result of this situation.”
Udashen said about a month’s worth of paperwork needs to be done before Cacy’s record can be cleared. The exoneration means that she is eligible to receive benefits from the state granted to those who are wrongfully convicted, which include a lump sum for each year spent in prison plus an annual annuity of $80,000.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives