Sacramento, CA

Part I - Sacramento man sent to prison for burning own house down maintains innocence 25 years later

Robert J Hansen

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Tim Hall's townhome after the July, 20, 1995 fire that would cost him seven years in prison.(Photo courtesy of Tim Hall)

Sacramento, Calif. by - Robert J Hansen

In March of 1996, Tim Hall was arrested for arson and insurance fraud and in April of 1999 was convicted of setting fire to his home according to court records.

Hall served seven years in prison having been released in December 2006.

Hall has always maintained his innocence and appealed his case several times over the years and is still fighting the conviction to this day.

“It’s not about money,” Hall said. “It’s about clearing my name and what is right.”

Hall believes that his dishwasher caused the July 1995 fire to his home and the homeowners association, not wanting to pay Hall’s claim, pulled some strings with the Sacramento court system to get him convicted and therefore not have to pay the claim.

The dishwasher has since been recalled according to Hall.

“There have been numerous house fires caused by several brands of faulty dishwashers over a few decades,” Jack Schubert of Pulsar Investigations wrote in a 2012 report.

Hall’s had renters insurance only which would replace up to $50,000 in possessions but the structure insurance was carried by the homeowners association.

Infra-office memos show that before the fire, the homeowners association was trying to find ways to limit its exposure according to Schubert’s report.

Schubert concluded that it makes no sense for Hall to burn down his home with renters insurance which would only replace what he lost.

The manager of the Brookfield Homeowners Association (BHA) was Barbara O’Donnell who embezzled thousands of dollars from the two homeowners associations and double billed repairs of burned and damaged property according to several witnesses.

There were rumors that O’Donnell set fires to apartments to collect insurance money. BHA filed bankruptcy in 1997 because of the losses caused by O’Donnell.

No records exist proving that O’Donnell took the money but it is believed she fled to South America where she died.

Between 1992 and 2001 there were nearly 30 fires at the apartment complex known as Wildwood and Brookfield according to Sacramento Fire Department records.

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Sacramento firefighter investigating Tim Halls home after the second fire on July 20, 1995.(Photo courtesy of Tim Hall)

According to the police reports and the preliminary hearing transcript, Frank Romo, a fire investigator for the City of Sacramento Fire Department, responded to the call.

When Romo arrived at Hall's townhouse, there was smoke in the building and debris was being cleared.

According to Romo, the firemen who first entered the building told him that they were at the door making forcible entry when the owner, Hall, arrived and allowed the use of a key to enter.

Francisco Munoz, a neighbor, said he was concerned because there were fire engines right in front of his house.

“I did not see Tim Hall at the scene of the first fire,” Munoz said.

Hall was bowling with his wife from about 6:00pm to 10:00 and when he and his wife arrived at their home, firefighters were already there.

Hall and his wife went to a motel for the night.

At about about 12:30 Munoz’s wife was looking out the window and saw Hall drive up in his wife’s car.

A couple of minutes later, Hall left the house according to Munoz.

Munoz was never asked nor did he mention whether he noticed Hall with his wife’s things when Hall left between 12:30 am and 1:00 am.

“About a half hour later (after Hall left) we heard another knock on the door,” Munoz said. Someone said there’s another fire.”

Romo was again dispatched to the same location and began a second investigation at the kitchen space where the previous fire had occurred.

Romo claimed the first fire was not connected to the second fire.

He then went into the living room and observed heavy charring and fire damage to the furniture in the center of the room.

There was also fire damage to the sofa, chair, the landing area at the door entry and to the stairwell which led to the upstairs second floor.

Romo said he noticed a "low even burn pattern on the floor" which indicates the presence of a flammable liquid fire.

Romo concluded that the second fire was deliberately set using a flammable liquid accelerant and reconsidered his previous opinions regarding the first fire, finally concluding that the first fire was also deliberately set.

On cross-examination, Romo described the fire as a "fast moving fire", an "accelerated fire."

However, Romo did not have an idea as to whether the accelerant was paint thinner, charcoal lighter fluid, or some other distilled mineral.

Romo did state that if the accelerant were charcoal fluid, then it would take from a seconds to a couple of minutes for a fire to spread and catch fire.

Hall said going to prison ruined his marriage and compromised his well being but has managed to put his life back together.

“I’ve already served my time and I can’t get it back,” Hall said. “That doesn’t change the fact that I never lit my own house on fire and I want that to be acknowledged by the court.”

This is an ongoing investigation with follow up articles to follow.

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Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Focused on holding elected officials, police and the courts accountable to the people throughout the greater Sacramento area.

Sacramento County, CA
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