COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Attorneys in Colorado believe a husband and wife who've been in prison for over a decade are innocent. Now, they want the district attorney in El Paso County to take another look at the case.
A house fire on March 7, 2003 killed three of Deborah and Tim Nicholls' children.
In a courtroom in 2008, prosecutors argued Deborah Nicholls was not home at the time of the fire, but that she planned the fire with her husband to collect insurance. According to the prosecution, Tim Nicholls had deliberately started the fire with Goof Off, a flammable liquid.
Both of them were sentenced to life without parole.
Deborah Nicholls' attorney, Janene McCabe, and lawyers with the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School have filed a motion to vacate Deborah Nicholls' convictions. They believe she was wrongfully convicted based on faulty fire science.
"I don’t believe a crime occurred," McCabe said. "You know, this is a case where it was a house fire. The prosecution alleged that was an intentional setting of a fire."
Tim Nicholls' attorney, Gail Johnson, believes he is innocent, too.
"What occurred was a tragic, accidental house fire,” Johnson said. “We hope the district attorney’s office will take a close look at the updated scientific information presented and recognize that this couple was wrongly convicted.”
Two fire experts submitted affidavits in support of their motion. Deborah Nicholls' legal team is asking the El Paso County District Court to vacate her convictions because they believe every part of the prosecution's scientific case has been discredited.
"This is very easily a house fire started by candles that were lit," McCabe said. "Deb Nicholls thought she had blown all of them out or told Tim Nicholls to blow them out. Somehow they weren't, and a fire started."
McCabe said Tim Nicholls woke up to the fire and jumped out of a second-story window. She said he thought his children were following him. They did not.
According to the legal team, fire experts found no reliable evidence of ignitable liquids in any of the casework samples from the home.
At trial, a jailhouse informant claimed Tim Nicholls confessed to planning the fire with Deborah Nicholls and then started the fire with Goof Off while Deborah was at work. Her legal team said the informant's account can't be true because new scientific evidence found there was no Goof Off -- or any other ignitable liquid -- detected among the fire debris.
McCabe said the district attorney's office asked the court for an additional six months to review the motion. McCabe said the report was 100 pages long.
The six months will be up in June.
"It does take this vast amount of resources and the reach of something like the Korey Wise Innocence Project to really take a look at a case that happened so long ago and had such a dramatic impact on Deb and Tim Nicholls' lives," McCabe said.
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