Report: Investigators Burned Plano Gun Shop Owner When They Shouted, "Arson!"

A Friend of Unfair Park forwards along this Texas Observer (no relation) cover story concerning the plight of Curtis Severns, a Sherman man accused by fire investigators of torching his own Plano gun shop -- even though there are plenty of arson experts who've said that's awfully unlikely. Severns is currently stuck in a federal prison, three years into a 28-year sentence. But the Observer makes a case that there's no case at all against the 42-year-old who certainly didn't need the insurance money:

There wasn't much to go on. No witnesses saw him set the fire. There were no traces of gasoline or other accelerants used to start the blaze. And there was little motive for Severns to burn down his own business and its inventory. Prosecutors would later claim he did it for the insurance money. That seems odd. Severns' family wasn't struggling financially; his wife earned a six-figure salary. Moreover, five months before the fire, Severns had reduced his insurance policy limit to far less than the shop was worth. If he'd done it for the insurance, he would have lost money on the deal.

Two of the leading arson experts in the country believe the fire at Lone Star Guns was accidental. They say it had a single point of origin, sparked by a frayed electric cord found at the scene, and was spread by a case of aerosol cans sitting nearby. The cans were filled with highly flammable gun cleaner. When aerosol cans explode, they can act like blowtorches, spewing flaming liquid all over. These experts say the ATF agents, using sloppy methods, mistook an aerosol-can explosion for a three-point-of-origin fire.