Daniel Dougherty, twice convicted of setting a fire that burned down his Oxford Circle home and killed his two sons, has been granted another retrial.
A three-judge Superior Court panel on Tuesday granted Daniel Dougherty, twice convicted of setting a 1985 fire that killed his two young sons in their Oxford Circle home, another retrial.
Dougherty, 57, was granted the latest retrial because Superior Court agreed with him that the prosecution should not have been allowed to show the jury a picture of the burned bodies; should not have been allowed to question an ex-girlfriend about his alleged violent acts when confronted about his drinking; and should not have been permitted at retrial to present a fire marshal’s testimony from the first trial, since he was unable to appear at the retrial.
Daniel Dougherty Jr., 4, and John Dougherty, 3, died in a fire at about 4 a.m. as they slept in their second-floor bedroom in a rowhome at 929½ Carver St.
At the time, Fire Marshal John Quinn labeled the blaze suspicious because it started in three places — the couch, love seat and under the dining room table.
Dougherty, who spent time at the Ashburner Inn after attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that night, was the only other person home at the time. He was found standing on the front porch by a 2nd Police District sergeant and officer who asked his name.
“My name is mud. I should die for what I did,” he replied.
However, there was not enough evidence to charge him with the crime.
In 1999, detectives from the police special investigations unit met with the fire marshal to discuss unsolved arson cases. Detectives re-interviewed witnesses, and the district attorney’s office approved charges.
Police arrested Dougherty, who was living on the 3300 block of Coral St. in Port Richmond, and he went on trial in October 2000.
Testimony included a formal statement Dougherty gave an hour after the incident. He told police he was asleep on the living room couch before awakening at 4 a.m. when he saw the curtains on the front window on fire. He unsuccessfully tried to put out the fire with a neighbor’s garden hose, then tried to climb a ladder to get to his children, but the flames prevented him from reaching them.
Also, two jailhouse informants testified that Dougherty told them he committed the crime to get revenge on his estranged wife, with whom he had quarreled in the hours leading up to the fire.
Dougherty testified that he was innocent, but a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and arson and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.
In 2012, during the appeals process, the district attorney’s office agreed to overturn the death sentence, changing the sentence to life in prison.
In winning the initial retrial, Dougherty’s defense team questioned the effectiveness of his trial lawyer, the now-deceased Thomas Q. Ciccone Jr., for failing to hire a fire investigation expert.
Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe presided over the retrial, in March and April 2016.
Dougherty did not testify in the retrial.
Defense attorney David Fryman based his case on testimony by John Lentini, a nationally known fire investigator who said the fire could have been an accident.
Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy went after Lentini in his closing statement, calling him a liar and contending that a prostitute on Kensington Avenue could hold her head higher than Lentini.
The jury convicted Dougherty of second-degree murder and arson.
Dougherty is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Greene, in southwestern Pennsylvania. ••