Page 3 of 4
"Not everybody in prison says they're innocent, but a lot of people do," Hall says. And like the others, she wasn't believed. But worse, she says, was the threat she felt living in proximity to a roommate Hall says was serving time for murder.
"I called [O'Connor] to tell him that if I die, this is who did it," Hall says. "I flat-out told him, I think I'm going to die in here. Bad things can happen there. You wouldn't believe what people can make into a weapon. Anything."
Meanwhile, her parents were struggling to afford their daughter's legal bills. Don, an employee at Kansas City Fire and Security, and Debi, who works as an assistant at an Overland Park dentist's office, both took night jobs answering phones for Pizza Hut's delivery line.
On June 29, 2004, the original judge to hear Hall's case, Jacqueline Cook, found that Hall had received inadequate counsel and agreed that Cover should at least have hired an expert to examine the fire site and damaged equipment. She set aside Hall's sentence and sent the case back to Cass County for a possible new trial, if prosecutors wanted one.
Hall was paroled from the prison in Vandalia just one week before the judge's motion to set aside her sentence took effect. But five months later, Cass County Prosecutor Theresa Hensley and her assistant, Jamie Hunt, decided to try her again.
The new jury found Hall not guilty last month.
The Halls are critical of Cass County prosecutors for retrying their daughter. They believe it was done out of spite. O'Connor says that even if the new jury had found her guilty, she would not have been eligible to spend any more time in jail because she had already served her sentence. The new trial cost the Halls another $20,000, bringing their total bill that they owed O'Connor for legal services to $100,000.
Cass County Prosecutor Theresa Hensley says that her office pursued the case because they believed they still had enough evidence to convict Hall. "We could have decided not to retry her," Hensley says. "Jamie Hunt, who second-chaired the first trial, believed he had enough evidence to find her guilty, that she had, in fact, started the fire. That's why we have courthouses and a jury system. The experts don't always agree, and that's why we have trials. Twelve jurors in the second trial believed their expert [Martin] over our expert [Schraml]. Jamie is a prosecutor I think highly of. I think he has good judgment. I think if you asked him today, he would tell you he still believes she did it."
Schraml's colleagues at the Harrisonville Police Department and at the Missouri State Fire Marshal's Office stand behind him, too. Schraml testified that he has investigated more than 300 fires and that he bases his success on how many convictions his reports have helped secure.
Schraml is taking a medical leave of absence from the Harrisonville Police Department, where he has worked for five years. Lt. Doug Catron, his superior, confirms that Schraml is the department's only fire investigator. Harrisonville's population is less than 10,000.
Apparently unaware that Hall had been exonerated, Catron says, "There is a rumor that circulated from the family of Ms. Hall that the fire could have been caused by an extension cord. Our department firmly stands behind both our investigator and the state fire marshal who co-investigated that fire."