The retrial continues Thursday of Daniel Dougherty, twice convicted of setting a 1985 fire that killed his two young sons in their Oxford Circle home.
Opening statements were given on Wednesday in room 305 of the Criminal Justice Center.
A three-judge Superior Court panel in 2017 granted Dougherty another retrial.
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. on Aug. 24, 1985 as they slept in a twin bed 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, loveseat 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 allegedly replied.
However, there was not enough evidence to charge him with a 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.
The jury convicted Dougherty of second-degree murder and arson.
Dougherty, 59, is now facing trial again in front of O’Keefe. The jury is made up of eight women and four men.
Fryman is back as his attorney. Assistant District Attorney Ashley Martin is handling the prosecution, with Anthony Voci, chief of the district attorney’s office homicide unit, by her side.
Before opening statements, the DA’s office offered Dougherty a deal. He could make an open plea to arson and two counts of third-degree murder.
“No. Never,” Dougherty answered when O’Keefe asked him if he would accept the deal, which could have made him immediately eligible for parole.
Dougherty asked O’Keefe to dismiss all charges, but the judge refused.
Back in 1985, Dougherty was living with his two sons, his girlfriend and her 8-year-old son. On the night of the fire, his girlfriend was working at a bingo hall. A babysitter was watching the Dougherty boys. The girlfriend found Dougherty drinking with another woman at the Ashburner.
“Get the f— home with your kids,” the girlfriend told Dougherty, according to Martin’s opening statement.
Dougherty eventually went home, and the house soon after was in flames.
“There’s nothing accidental about that fire,” Martin said.
Dougherty said he was asleep on the couch, then woke up to see the curtains on fire. Firefighters put out the blaze quickly, but the Dougherty boys were found in their bed.
Shirtless, Dougherty was taken to Northeast Detectives.
“Not a burn on his body,” Martin said, adding that he did not suffer smoke inhalation.
Fryman, joined at the defense table by fellow attorney Shannon Farmer, proclaimed his client innocent.
“Daniel Dougherty did not set that fire,” he said.
Fryman said there was no evidence of a flammable liquid or eyewitnesses to the start of the fire.
The burn patterns the prosecution plans to present would be the same in an accidental or intentional fire, Fryman said.
Fryman described Dougherty as shocked and disoriented at the sight of the fire, adding that he never said that his name was “mud” and he should die for what he did.
The defense attorney told the jury that his client was not arrested until 14 years after the fire. ••