WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — A suburban Chicago man who spent 22 years behind bars on charges of arson and murder in his mother-in-law's death was found not guilty by a judge Wednesday in the retrial of his case.
William Amor, 62, had been convicted in 1997 and was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the 1995 Naperville fire that killed Marianne Miceli. Amor was released on bond last May after a judge vacated his convictions and ordered a new trial, ruling that advances in fire science proved the description Amor gave in his confession was impossible.
Amor said in a statement after the DuPage County judge's Wednesday ruling that followed a seven-day bench trial that he was grateful to have his day in court and the ruling represented the end of a nightmare for him.
"I am looking forward to starting the next phase of my life as a free man, no longer labeled as a murderer, for the first time in a long time," Amor said. His attorneys included representatives from the Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois Springfield and the Exoneration Project.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said his office stands by its prosecution but respects the court's decision.
"This was a very complicated case originally based on fire science available at the time," Berlin said. "Since that time, more than twenty years later, fire science has improved dramatically and consequently the evidence presented at this trial has changed from that presented in 1995."
Amor's attorneys said his conviction was based on a coerced false confession to police that came after 15 hours of questioning and Amor being served divorce papers at the station. Amor confessed to police that he started the fire by leaving a smoldering cigarette on a newspaper soaked in vodka. Three fire science experts testified last spring that lab-tested samples found no ignitable liquids at the scene.
"We have known for a long time that Bill is innocent and a terrible injustice occurred," attorney Lauren Kaeseberg said. "While it took far too long, we are thrilled by today's verdict finally exonerating Bill."