Questions still swirl about validity of 2009 arson confession - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Questions still swirl about validity of 2009 arson confession

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Pizza and beer were the unlikely focus of an hours-long criminal court hearing Wednesday. 

UB Thomas was convicted of setting four fires on West Hill, East Saint Catherine, Rowan and Duncan Streets in 2009. In the aftermath of the fires, Thomas was given beer by Louisville arson investigators. About 2 ½ hours of Thomas’ interrogation were not recorded. 

"He finally looked at me and said, 'You guys know, don't you?' I just said, 'Yes, Mr. Thomas, we know.' That's when he said, 'OK,' and I said, 'I just want to know why," said arson investigator Sgt. John Griffith.

But was the confession coerced by beer, a slice of Wick's pizza and maybe even drugs? 

"This is probably the first beer that's ever been in the arson bureau, and it's the most painful beer to ever be in the arson bureau," said former Maj. Henry Ott.

Thomas and his lawyers think so. They want his conviction tossed and a new trial.

Judge Olu Stevens heard both sides Wednesday in court. Arson investigators, including Griffith, admit to the pizza and beer part.  

"We were done with him," Griffith said. "We weren't planning on talking to him anymore. It was kind of a kind gesture. Was it wrong to do? Yeah, we shouldn't have done it. It was probably a violation of our policies and got us into all of this."

Thomas' lawyers question the timing, though, and if it was really after the interview instead of during. They also say cameras in the interrogation room weren't rolling for 2 ½ hours. 

In somewhat of an unexpected move, Thomas testified. He told the courtroom he had free access to a bag he brought with him -- full of pills.

"There was a red container with Loritabs and Volumes in them," Thomas said. "I probably consumed, during the time they left the room, between nine and 10 pills.

 "I knew I was telling the truth on May 7, 2009, the same truth I'm telling today."

Judge Stevens didn't make a decision about the potential of a new trial. He said to expect one soon.

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SUNDAY EDITION | Role of alcohol in arson confession brings 2010 conviction back to court

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