Joann Parks-Shigemura

County of Conviction:

Convicted of:





case details

On the night of April 9, 1989, JoAnn Parks put her three children to sleep and went to bed. Around midnight, she woke to the sound of her children screaming and quickly realized her house was on fire. Despite efforts to help her children, she could not get to them. JoAnn ran next door to ask her neighbors for help and to call the police. Tragically, no one was able to save her children. Although investigators initially believed the fire to be accidental, they ultimately concluded it was arson.

During the trial, fire investigators asserted the fire had two points of origin, one in the living room and another in the children’s bedroom. Additionally, investigators believed someone barricaded her oldest child in a closet with a laundry hamper. Based on these factors, JoAnn was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Since 1989, fire science has changed drastically and new techniques and methods of investigation have been discovered. In 2011, an Arson Review Panel, led by John Lentini, concluded the fire in JoAnn’s home was most likely an accident. They found the forensic evidence used during the original investigation was invalid and that the fire investigators who analyzed the case in 1989 simply did not have a proper understanding of the behavior of fire.

The Panel’s report concluded the fire spread from a single origin in the living room and moved into the children’s bedroom. Due to a phenomenon called flashover, it only appeared to the untrained eye that there were two points of origin for the fire.

The Panel also determined there was no reliable evidence that something was barricading the closet door. Rather, the child likely took refuge from the fire in the closet. Ultimately, the Panel concluded that, by modern standards, none of the allegedly incriminating evidence against JoAnn would withstand scrutiny today. The investigators and jury were misled by junk science or no science at all.

In 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted JoAnn an evidentiary hearing based on false scientific evidence. While the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office admitted much of the evidence was false, they ignored the changes in the science and argued the original findings were accurate. Unfortunately, the judge viewed the hearing as a battle of experts, denying JoAnn relief.

In 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom granted Parks’ clemency petition making her immediately eligible for parole. She was released on January 12, 2021, after 29 years of wrongful incarceration.

JoAnn’s case was covered by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edward Humes in his book, Burned. Get it on Amazon here.

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