A 72-year-old man who has served 16 years of a life sentence for setting a fire that killed his tenant and her two young children was ordered released Friday by a federal judge who found that he did not receive a fair trial because of inadequate representation.
District Judge Anthony W. Ishii ordered George Souliotes released unless California prosecutors decide to retry the Greek immigrant for the 1997 fire.
Ishii concurred with the recommendations of a magistrate judge who found in a 93-page opinion last month that Souliotes should be freed because his trial was "fundamentally unfair." The magistrate judge had ruled that no reasonable juror would find Souliotes guilty of triple homicide if they were presented with the evidence today.
The fire at Souliotes’ Modesto property broke out as he was attempting to evict Michelle Jones, 31, and her children, 8 and 3. Relying on patterns and markings in the burnt home, experts had testified at trial that the blaze was deliberately set -- opinions that have since been scientifically debunked. Authorities alleged Souliotes set the fire for an insurance payout.