COLORADO SPRINGS — In the middle of the night on Undimmed Circle in Colorado Springs in 2003, a family home went up in flames killing three children inside.
Since then, the children's parents, Deborah and Timothy Nicholls, have both been convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for intentionally starting the fire. The prosecution in the case said the two set the fire for insurance money so they could pay for their meth addiction. Now 19 years later, the defense attorneys for Deborah Nicholls have filed a motion to request a new trial, this time with the backing of the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School.
Deborah's attorneys are citing new developments in fire science since her conviction and faulty evidence provided by the prosecution's lead expert. During her husband's trial in 2007, a jailhouse informant testified that he confessed to starting the fire with Goof Off, a flammable stain remover. The informant also testified that he confessed to planning the fire with his wife, Deborah, tying her to the case.
Janene McCabe, Deborah's attorney, said there was no evidence of the chemicals from the stain remover at the scene, proving the informant's testimony to be false.
"Chemical debris analysis shows that Goof Off was not used in the fire, in the starting or the setting of the fire, or the accidental fire," said McCabe. "There is evidence that a candle was lit and that it, in fact, could have burned down and it could have been the start of the fire."
She also said that the prosecution's lead expert during Deborah's trial in 2008, Dr. John DeHaan, provided an inaccurate analysis of the cause of the fire. In 2015, Dr. DeHaan was expelled as a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences because investigators said he made wrong calculations and fabricated test results in a different arson trial.
"It takes the ability to step back and look at all of the evidence and review everything to recognize that this is in fact a tragic accident and that these three children were not murdered," said McCabe.
In 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the murder convictions against Deborah. McCabe also added the odds are against them.
"It is very rare that cases are given a new trial based on new evidence, but those cases do come along," she said.
The attorneys for Deborah's husband, Tim, are also asking the District Attorney's Office to take a look at what they say is updated scientific information in his case. In the meantime, the District Attorney's Office has filed a motion asking for six months to respond to Deborah's attorneys.
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