Garland Leon "Butch" Martin

Circumstances: On Feb. 25, 1998, Martin's wife, Marcia Pool; their daughter, Kristen, 1; and her son, Michael, 3, were killed in a house fire. Martin had been abusive to Pool, and she told her mother he had threatened to kill her that day. Martin left with a friend, and when they returned 30 minutes later, found the house ablaze. He was restrained by police.

Evidence: Paramedics testified that they smelled charcoal lighter fluid on Martin when they took him to a hospital. Doctors reported evidence of blunt trauma to Pool and her son, probably before the fire was set. Investigators detected a pour pattern of flammable liquids on the floor and trace amounts of what was probably lamp oil found near a bedroom wall, where they said the fire started.

Problems: Other witnesses reported no unusual smells. The injuries to Pool and her son are common results of carbon monoxide poisoning. The "pour patterns" can occur in accidental patterns. The trace amounts of liquid also could have come from numerous household products. Other experts suspected the fire started on a back porch, where an extension cord connected to a refrigerator.

Outcome: Martin is serving a life term on three counts of capital murder.


Martin's case is also featured in the following article from Texas Star-Telegram
Texas' debate over arson science is reignited

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The Case of Garland Leon “Butch” Martin

On February 25, 1998, the home of Garland Leon “Butch” Martin and his common-law wife, Marcia Pool, burned down. Marcia Pool was killed in the blaze along with Michael Brady Stevens, her three-year-old son, and Kristen Rhea Martin, the 20-month-old daughter of Marcia Pool and Butch Martin.

Martin was arrested and charged with murder and arson in the following months. He went to trial in April 1999. The relationship between Butch Martin and Marcia Pool was often turbulent. At times over their three years together, Martin was abusive to Pool, and on several occasions the couple split up and later reconciled.

Mary Stephens, Pool’s mother, testified that on the day of the fire, Marcia called and in tears, asked to be picked up with the children. Pool spoke of leaving Martin and his threats of murder if she did. Later that day, Pool and the children returned home. A few hours later, Martin left Pool and the children at the house to go with a friend to take measurements for a fence-building job. They were gone for approximately 30 minutes, and when they returned Martin’s house was on fire. Distraught, Martin ran to the house and attempted to push down the front door and get in through a window. His friend, with the help of police deputies, restrained him for safety.

After the fire was put out, Martin was taken to a hospital in San Angelo. He was arrested for arson and murder in April 1998.

The Prosecution’s Theory

The prosecution’s theory was that Martin, angry that his wife was about to leave, started a fire with a liquid accelerant near the back of the house in the master bedroom and then left, locking his wife and children inside. At trial, paramedics testified that they smelled an unusual odor, similar to charcoal lighter fluid, coming from Martin on the way to the hospital.

The prosecution also brought forward Dr. David Hoblit, the chief medical examiner of Lubbock County, and Dr. Harold Gill-King, a forensic anthropologist. Both testified to finding evidence of brain injuries caused by a blunt head trauma in Marcia Pool and Brady Martin. They believed that these injuries preceded and were not related to the fire, contributing to the theory that Martin knocked Marcia Pool and Brady Stephens unconscious before starting the fire. The autopsy of Kristen Martin revealed no injuries other than those caused by the fire. Fire Marshall Dale Little stated that his investigation showed that the fire started in the back of the house in the master bedroom near the backdoor. He testified that he found a pour pattern, indicating the presence of a flammable liquid, in these areas. He added that he had found a residue of charcoal lighter fluid near a wall in the master bedroom.

Samples from these areas were sent to Armstrong Laboratories where Director John Corn said they tested positive for Norpar and deparaffinated kerosene (DPK). Based on Armstrong’s results, Little testified that the cause of the fire was arson and that the liquid poured in the house was lamp oil.

The Defense’s Theory

Butch Martin’s attorneys maintained that the fire was a tragic accident that took place while Martin was out of the house. Several witnesses, who had been in close contact with Martin immediately before and after the fire, testified that they smelled no unusual odor, such as lighter fluid, on him or his clothes. Also, Dr. Lloyd White, forensic pathologist and medical examiner for Nueces County, testified that the brain injuries found on Brady and Marcia were a common finding in deaths associated with fire (as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning). He maintained that there was nothing to conclude the injuries were caused by blunt trauma.

The defense challenged prosecution experts Little and Corn. Even when presented with 268 patents for common household items that contain Norpar (including spot remover,deodorant, linoleum and pesticides), Corn insisted that he could think of no products that contain Norpar other than lamp oil.

The defense brought forward Doug Byron of Forensic and ScientificTesting of Atlanta, who disputed the findings of Corn and Armstrong Labs. He said the samples tested positive for Norpar and DPK because they were common ingredients in numerous household products.

Additionally, Carter Roberts, a certified fire investigator, testified about his own inspection of the house and review of Little’s findings. He stated that there was not enough evidence to determine what Little described as a pour pattern. He disputed Little’s conclusion that the fire started in the bedroom and believed that it started instead on the back porch. Finally, Roberts criticized the fire investigators for discounting and then discarding an extension cord which connected a refrigerator on the back porch to an outlet inside the house. He concluded that Little was looking for arson from the outset and immediately abandoned any search for an accidental cause, disregarding a fundamental tenant of fire investigation.Both sides presented a complicated chain of events at trial. Ultimately, Butch Martin wasconvicted on three counts of capital murder and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences.

Post-Conviction Litigation

Butch Martin’s direct appeal was denied by the Texas Court of Appeals in December 2000. He filed for a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus in October 2002.His attorneys consulted various experts, including John Lentini and Gerald Hurst, about the arson evidence. These experts disputed whether or not the original tests did correctly prove the presence of Norpar. Even among those who thought Norpar was present, they disputed its source as lamp oil. In Gerald Hurst’s 2002 affidavit, he noted “while it is true the Norpar can be used as lamp oil, it is equally true that most lamp oils are not Norpar.”

Hurst also disputed Little’s claim that because he found isoparaffins in the master bedroom residue, its source was charcoal lighter fluid, to the exclusion of any other products. Hurst maintained that the primary use of isoparaffins is not for charcoal lighter fluid and provided a list of over 25 commonhousehold items that contain the same isoparaffins. He concluded that nothing resembling a satisfactory fire report was generated by authorities in the case.

Martin’s attorneys sought to overturn his conviction based on several claims of ineffectiveassistance of counsel, including:

-- Counsel failed to challenge the results of the Armstrong testing that pointed to the presence of Norpar and DPK. Trial counsel disputed their significance, but failed to ever challenge their actual presence.

-- Counsel failed to seek an expert chemist to take and analyze the defense’s ownsamples.

-- Counsel never had the state’s samples retested.

-- Counsel failed to support an alternate theory of the fire as accidental or nonconclusive.

Martin’s case is currently being litigated by attorneys David Botsford and Walter Longand the West Texas Innocence Project. Based on careful analysis of the original investigation,they have argued that the case against Butch Martin is not “overwhelming, but rests upon an unstable pillar of forensic chemistry.” They are petitioning the court for an opportunity to have John Lentini reexamine everything given to John Corn of Armstrong Labs, including his rawdata, lab notes and spectrograms used to make his original determinations. If Lentini is able to demonstrate that the substances are either not ignitable liquids or that they have a harmless relation to fire-starting, they hope that the court will agree to overturn Martin’s conviction and exonerate or retry him. Currently, his writ of habeas corpus is still pending.