Arson Death Penalty Case Built on Dubious Science

Based on dubious science, prosecutor hits mom who lost kids with murder charges.

ByABC News
May 6, 2010, 11:17 AM

May 7, 2010 — -- The street names in Sherwood Forest, a subdivision outside Alexandria, Louisiana, are from the legend of Robin Hood. But the story that played out nearly 10 years ago in one of the homes on Friar Tuck Lane is more like a tale from the Brothers Grimm.

Amanda Kelley had three children: Sadii, 10; Luke, 6; and Jessica, 3. On a winter's day in 2001, she left them briefly to run an errand.

She said that she had left them alone before, "but not for long." This time, she said, she was gone about 15 to 20 minutes.

They were 20 minutes that changed everything. When Kelley drove back up to the house, she saw fire.

"Flames around my bedroom window," she told ABC News. "I ran into the house, I felt my way down the hall, it was so black -- you couldn't see a hand in front of your face. ... [I] tried to get up the stairs, to where they should've been to get dressed -- that's where their rooms were and I couldn't make it up the stairs."

Neither Kelley nor the firefighters could save the children.

Kelley still has one of their blankets.

"For the first few weeks after they died, I wore it around my neck, and I just would rub it," Kelley said. "And I had someone tell me it was unhealthy and I needed to take it off, [that] it smells like smoke."

But the smoke at the scene of the fire hadn't even cleared when detective Bobby Sandoval of the Rapides Parish Sheriff's Department smelled a crime. In an interview with ABC News, Sandoval said he had suspicions "within the first five minutes."