A Miami arson case that attracted far-reaching media interest after a bizarre incident in court where the defense attorney’s pants caught fire has ended with the arsonist being sentenced to serve 364 days in jail.
Little was known about the case outside the Miami courtroom until the lawyer’s pants burst into flames. The defendant Claudy Charles accepted a plea deal which will include five years of probation. The fire fiasco had led to the suspected
being granted a fresh trial after he had been convicted in March. He decided to take the plea deal in the new trial. The attorney was also stood down from the case.
The fire incident is still under investigation with investigators trying to figure out whether it was planned to sway the opinion of the jury or it was just an incredible coincidence that it occurred as he tried to convince the jury that his client’s vehicle had caught fire accidentally.
A hitherto low-profile case in Miami-Dade criminal court attracted widespread media attention on March 8 when the remarkable event took place. The defense attorney Stephen Gutierrez was making his final arguments arguing that the defendant’s car had caught fire spontaneously and that the defendant had not set it ablaze in order to get insurance compensation money.
According to witnesses, Gutierrez had his hand in his hand in his pocket, fiddling, when smoke started coming out of his right pocket. As jurors and onlookers stared in bewilderment, Gutierrez ran to the bathroom to put out the fire with water. When he came back, the effects of the flame were visible on his pants. He was allowed to conclude his arguments but did not stop his client from being convicted.
Gutierrez, 28, blamed the fire on a malfunctioning battery in his electronic cigarette. Michael Hanzman, the Miami-Dade Circuit Judge, could not hide his skepticism calling the “accident “highly improbable”. As the story spread around the world, Hanzman stopped Gutierrez from continuing with the case.
The incident led to the prosecutors agreeing to grant Charles a new trial. They also offered him the plea deal that they had offered him before the first trial. This time, Charles accepted the deal.
Meanwhile, the Attorney’s office in Miami-Dade has assigned two prosecutors to investigate what really happened in court on the day that Gutierrez’s pants caught fire. Judge Hanzman appointed Christine Zahralban and Gail Levine and gave them 60 days to come up with their findings. Just like the day of the incident, the judge insisted that he still remained skeptical that the fire was accidental. He called the incident a “side show”
Speaking to reporters, Gutierrez said the incident had been blown out of “monumental proportions”. The case has drawn mocking headlines all over the world
Electronic cigarettes are used by millions across America. Questions have been raised about the fire and health risks of these products. Indeed it is only recently that the Department of Transportation banned e-cigarettes from being kept in checked bags during flights.
On the day of the fire incident in court, police officers from Miami-Dade confiscated several e-cigarette batteries from the attorney which will be used in the investigations and as evidence.