Monstrous killer or innocent mother?


Read this book now. Not only because ‘Burned’ is one of the most important critiques of forensic 'science' ever written but because it will shock, move and enlighten you. Explosive but sobering, ‘Burned’ plows through decades of received myth and junk science to reveal the sometimes tragic mistakes in our criminal justice system. Humes, as always, is humane and provocative. Reporting like this is a big reason our republic is still mostly in one piece.

— T. Jefferson Parker, bestselling author of “Swift
Vengeance” and “The Room of White Fire”


On an April night in 1989, three small children perished in a Los Angeles apartment fire. Their twenty-three-year-old mother, Jo Ann Parks, escaped unharmed, the sole survivor and only eyewitness. Though they at first believed the fire had been a tragic accident, arson investigators soon decided that Parks had sabotaged wiring, set several fires herself, and even barricaded her four-year-old son inside a closet to make sure he could not escape the flames.

Authorities  pronounced Parks one of the most monstrous killers in Los Angeles history, motivated by a desire to be free of parental responsibilities and eager to cash in by suing her landlords. Convicted through the power of forensic fire science, Parks remains in prison to this day, sentenced to life without possibility of parole. 

More than a quarter century later, however, there has been a revolution in the science of fire. Much of what was thought to be gospel in 1989 has been revealed to be myth and guesswork disguised as science. Now the Parks case has been reopened and re-investigated, the subject of an intense legal battle stretching over ten months of  hearings in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Lawyers at the California Innocence Project are trying to prove that false assumptions, tunnel vision and outright bias infected the Parks case from day one.

They argue this not only led to the wrongful conviction of an innocent mother, but also turned a terrible accident into a triple homicide case —condemning Parks to life in prison for a crime that never happened.

Will Jo Ann Parks be exonerated? Should she be? Is she “Patient Zero” in an epidemic of wrongful arson convictions waiting to be overturned? Or can prosecutors come up with enough evidence from the ashes to make sure she dies in prison?

No matter how it turns out, someone will be left burned. 

Read an excerpt of Burned.

Read original Burned case-file documents.

About Edwards Humes, including links to articles and reviews

burned, book, edward humes

”An instant true-crime classic
that reads like a thriller.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

“This sobering, enlightening read is true crime at its best, with the right blend of justice and intrigue that will leave readers searching for truth in the criminal justice system.”
— Starred review, Library Journal

"Eye-opening, suspenseful tale of murder and secrets."
Entertainment Weekly20 New Books to Read in January 2019

“A powerful true crime tale that questions the authority of forensic science.”
— Starred review, Shelf Awareness

One of the best new crime non-fiction books.

“Riveting… Fascinating.”
— Booklist

”Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist Humes once again exposes a flawed American criminal justice system, this time with a new twist."
Kirkus Reviews

”Burned is a gripping, bone-chilling look at the justice system from an elegant writer.”
—Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Psychological Science, University of California Irvine

Media inquiries, review copies and events:

Contact Maria Whelan,
Senior Publicist, Dutton Books

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