Retrial ordered in 1985 Oxford Circle blaze that killed two kids

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. ••