A Southern California woman who spent 29 years behind bars after being convicted of killing her three children by setting their home on fire was released from state prison on parole Tuesday.
JoAnn Parks, 54, was granted clemency last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, nearly a decade after an arson review panel concluded that the fire probably was started accidentally, according to the San Diego-based California Innocence Project, which handled the case.
Parks was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of her children in a 1989 fire at their home in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell. She was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Parks, who escaped the blaze, has maintained her innocence.
At her trial, fire investigators testified that the blaze was caused by arson. However, a review panel in 2011 “found the forensic evidence used during the original investigation was invalid” and that “by modern standards, none of the allegedly incriminating evidence … would withstand scrutiny today,” said a statement on The Innocence Project website.
“The investigators and jury were misled by bad science, or no science at all,” the statement said.
Attorneys for Parks said they would continue fighting to have her conviction overturned.
“Nothing could be worse than losing your children and then being wrongfully convicted of their murder,” Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, said in a statement. “As we learn more about the science of fires, hopefully these kinds of wrongful convictions will no longer occur.”