Deborah and Tim Nicholls were sentenced to life in prison in 2008 after a fire at their home killed three of their children.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Lawyers in Colorado believe that a husband and wife who have been in prison for more than a decade are innocent. Now, they want the El Paso County district attorney to re-examine the case.
A house fire on March 7, 2003 killed three of Deborah and Tim Nicholls’ children.
In a courtroom in 2008, prosecutors argued that Deborah Nicholls was not home at the time of the fire, but that she planned the fire with her husband to collect on the insurance. According to the prosecution, Tim Nicholls had deliberately set the fire with Goof Off, a flammable liquid.
Both were sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Deborah Nicholls’ attorney, Janene McCabe, and attorneys from the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado School of Law filed a motion to vacate Deborah Nicholls’ convictions. They believe she was wrongly convicted based on faulty fire science.
“I don’t think there was a crime,” McCabe said. “You know, this is a case where a house caught fire. The prosecution claimed it was arson.”
Tim Nicholls’ lawyer, Gail Johnson, believes he too is innocent.
“What occurred was a tragic and accidental house fire,” Johnson said. “It is our hope that the district attorney’s office will take a close look at the updated scientific information presented and acknowledge that this couple was wrongly convicted.”
Two fire experts submitted affidavits in support of his motion. Deborah Nicholls’ legal team is petitioning 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 burning,” McCabe said. “Deb Nicholls thought he either blew them all up or told Tim Nicholls to put them out. Somehow they didn’t, and a fire started.”
McCabe said Tim Nicholls was woken by the fire and jumped out of a second-story window. She said that he thought his children were following him. They do not.
According to the legal team, fire experts found no reliable evidence of flammable liquids in any of the case samples from the house.
At trial, a jailhouse informant claimed that Tim Nicholls confessed to planning the fire with Deborah Nicholls and then started the fire with Goof Off while Deborah was at work. His legal team said the whistleblower’s account cannot be true because new scientific evidence found that no Goof Off, or any other flammable liquid, was detected in the fire debris.
McCabe said the district attorney’s office has asked the court for six more months to review the motion. McCabe said the report was 100 pages long.
The six months will end in June.
“It takes this huge amount of resources and the reach of something like the Korey Wise Innocence Project to really look at a case that happened so long ago and had such a dramatic impact on the lives of Deb and Tim Nicholls,” McCabe said. .
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