Man convicted for 3rd time of murder, arson in 1985 fire

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A man has been convicted for a third time in what authorities called an arson in a Philadelphia row home that killed his two young sons more than three decades ago.

A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for seven hours over two days before convicting 59-year-old Daniel Dougherty of second-degree murder and arson, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Judge J. Scott O'Keefe immediately sentenced Dougherty on Monday to two consecutive life terms, calling his actions "despicable."

"Pure revenge against a girlfriend and a wife," O'Keefe said. "You don't burn your own two children to death."

Dougherty has maintained his innocence since the 1985 blaze destroyed the home, killing 3-year-old John and 4-year-old Daniel Jr. Prosecutors portrayed him as a jilted lover who set fires in three places in the home as revenge against both his ex-wife and his girlfriend, who owned the home and had planned to end their relationship. Neither she nor her own son were home at the time.

Dougherty was sentenced to death after his first convictions, but that was reduced to a life sentence in 2012. Two years later, an appeals court ordered a new trial, citing introduction of testimony from the first trial of a city fire investigator unable to testify at the retrial, which the court said violated the defendant's right to face his accuser.

Dougherty and his supporters contended that the earlier verdicts were tainted by key testimony from a fire investigator they say used out-of-date and discarded arson-investigation techniques. He decided to go to a third trial despite a plea offer that may have made him eligible to apply for parole.

Anthony Voci, chief of the prosecutor's office homicide unit, disputed the idea that there had been any appreciable change in the science of arson investigations.

"The way fire science is recorded and described may have changed, but basic elements of fire science haven't changed for decades," he said after the verdict.

Defense attorney David Fryman argued that no one saw Dougherty light a match or heard him discuss a plan to burn the house down, or saw him act in an unloving manner toward his children. Fryman also said it was very difficult to determine the origin of the fire.

As the verdicts were read, Dougherty showed little emotion, climbing into a wheelchair he has used for transport and wheeling toward an adjoining holding cell. His ex-wife, mother of the slain boys, let out a whimper. She declined to comment later, but she hugged one of the prosecutors, Ashley Martin, saying "I can't thank you enough."

"It feels like justice for those boys," Martin said later.
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