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Third trial begins for man twice-convicted for 1985 arson fire that killed his 2 sons

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jurors are hearing the third trial of a man who is accused of intentionally setting a fire in his Oxford Circle row house in 1985, which killed his 3- and 4-year-old sons. 

Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned both of Daniel Dougherty’s previous convictions.

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Martin told jurors that Dougherty, who was 26 years old at the time, started the fire after a night of drinking and arguing with his live-in girlfriend back then, who threatened to leave him. He also argued with his estranged wife, who refused his sexual advances. 

Martin said while Dougherty contends to the drinking, he said he woke up on the couch to see the curtains ablaze. When a responding officer asked him his name and what happened, he reportedly responded, “My name is Mud, and I should die for what I did.”

The commonwealth will call an independent investigator — Thomas Schneiders, a former Philadelphia fire marshal — to confirm the original report of arson. It detailed evidence of burn patterns in three separate spots — the couch, love seat and under the dining room table — indicating it was arson. 

Defense lawyer David Frieman opened by telling jurors that Dougherty, now 59, tried desperately to put it out, and he was so frantic police had to restrain him. 

In Frieman’s words, “No way, no how can anyone prove it was intentionally set, and it could have been a faulty stereo extension cord or an a errant cigarette in a house full of smokers.” 

The defense will call two fire science experts to testify it was a “full-room involvement” that should have been classified as “undetermined.” 

Frieman told jurors that the first responding officer who spoke with Dougherty said the row home looked like a “blast furnace.” It went from “a fire in a room, to a room on fire,” Frieman said.

Before opening statements, Dougherty rejected a plea arrangement conveyed by the district attorney’s office to plead guilty to two counts of third-degree murder, as well as arson, and then have an open sentence before a judge. 

Homicide Unit Chief Anthony Vochi said the plea deal would have made Dougherty eligible for parole today. The presiding judge, Scott O’Keefe, responded, “I don’t know that he would be parole eligible.”

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