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Arson, murder charges dismissed against PTC couple

Fayette County prosecutors have dropped all charges against Scott Dahlman and Valerie Dahlman who had been accused of murdering his mother, Francis Dahlman, by setting her on fire in their Peachtree City home Aug. 31, 2008.

The dismissal was necessary due to missing evidence: a white sheet that had a burn pattern on it, according to a motion filed Monday by Assistant District Attorney Warren Sellers.

The white sheet was not photographed, seized, secured or properly maintained by the Peachtree City fire marshall, and is “no longer available,” according to the motion. The sheet also was not considered by the state fire marshall in his analysis of the fire scene, the document said.

“The state believes the above, when considered with the other evidence available to the state at this time, will create a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused and that while there was probable cause for the arrest, there is insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the motion said.

Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth said today he had no comment on the matter due to an ongoing personnel investigation.

The presence of the white sheet at the crime scene was revealed in a video recording of the fire scene that also was not initially turned over to the state fire marshall or the detective investigating the case “even though both requested all relevant evidence concerning the case,” according to the motion.

Francis Dahlman lived in the basement of her son’s home and suffered burns while she was in a recliner, police said. An autopsy determined that Francis Dahlman burned to death in Scott and Valerie Dahlman’s home in the Crabapple Woods subdivision in north Peachtree City.

In a bond hearing in December, a nurse who cared for Francis Dahlman in her basement apartment testified that the evening before the fire, she recalled a candle being lit on a table immediately next to Francis Dahlman’s recliner. The nurse also testified that Valerie Dahlman gave excellent care to her mother in law and that Francis Dahlman had been under hospice care.

Prosecutor Sellers at that bond hearing suggested that 11 days prior to the fire, Francis Dahlman had suffered a severe seizure and Valerie Dahlman wouldn’t let medical personnel take her mother in law to the hospital for treatment.

Defense attorney Ed Garland submitted evidence at the hearing showing that Francis Dahlman had a “do not resuscitate” order filed in addition to orders from her hospice physician that she not be forced to take her medication.



Despite the face-saving words of the district attorney, the case against Scott and Valerie Dahlman was not dismissed because of the absence of a white sheet from the evidence. The case was dismissed because the DA realized he could not obtain a conviction. The reason he could not obtain a conviction is because these people were so clearly innocent and this case was so badly botched--not by the Peachtree City Fire Marshal, but by the Peachtree City Police Department detective and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The sheet, had it been retained, would not have been evidence of arson as the D.A. suggested. It would have been more evidence that the fire was started by a candle, and either the sheet or a blanket, which was in evidence, caught fire and transferred the candle flame to the chair in which the victim was sitting.

The candle is obviously the source of the fire. Photographic evidence shows burning outside the perimeter of the candle on the plate where it was located. The candle had reached the end of its useful life, which is the most dangerous time in a candle’s existence.

The DA has thrown Peachtree City Fire Marshal John Dailey under the bus, but not because of the failure to collect a piece of evidence. John Dailey had the integrity to stand up to the district attorney, the state fire marshal, and the police Detective, when he refused to go along with their unsupported determination that the fire was intentionally set.

Consider for a moment that Frances Dahlman was already dying. She was in hospice care. Scott and Valerie Dahlman, if it was their wish to end Frances Dahlman’s life, could have done so by putting a pillow over her face, or by overdosing her on the numerous drugs she was taking. A death from either one of these methods would have resulted in absolutely zero suspicion. There would have been no autopsy, and Frances Dahlman would have been diagnosed as having died a natural death. To suggest that Scott and Valerie conspired to burn their mother alive is beyond ridiculous. But if one looks at the personnel file of the detective leading the charge in this case, one will find that she specializes in “elder abuse.” It seems she had a predilection to find that kind of a crime, even where no evidence of it existed.

The state fire marshal’s contention that they still believe the fire was intentionally set is ridiculous on its face. The first report written by the fire marshal was so badly written, so vague and conclusory, that the judge made him go back and write it over. His report still made no sense.

As a result of this botched case, a man of towering integrity is going to be removed from his job, not for making an error, but for failing to go along with the misguided prosecution. Given the state of the criminal justice system in Fayette County, nobody should be surprised at this.

John J. Lentini

The 5-0's picture

FireScientist wrote- "She was in hospice care. Scott and Valerie Dahlman, if it was their wish to end Frances Dahlman’s life, could have done so by putting a pillow over her face, or by overdosing her on the numerous drugs she was taking."

Just because someone is in hospice does not mean someone can kill them!

To even suggest that they could smother her or overdose her on drugs if they so desired, is macabre and criminal in your thinking! How dare you pollute this forum with your demented views of human life and worth!

I certainly did not mean to "pollute" your forum. I was merely pointing out that the detective's (and the DA's) theory of the case was so unlikely in that IF the Dalhmans wished to do away with their mother, they would have chosen a less cruel , painful, and attention-grabbing way of doing so!

The bogus indictment has wrecked these folks lives at least for the last 18 months, and they will probably never recover from the financial strain that hiring lawyers and experts cost them. And, they have no recourse. Where do they go to get their reputations back? You should read the 2 page "report" prepared by a deputy state fire marshall that DA Ballard used as the foundation for these specious charges.

John J. Lentini

[quote=FireScientist]...You should read the 2 page "report" prepared by a deputy state fire marshall that DA Ballard used as the foundation for these specious charges.[/quote]

How does one obtain this report? This whole case has been a bit puzzling.

Send an email requesting the reports to, and I will email you both reports.

John J. Lentini

Firescientist, I appreciate your comments. I thought when this was first reported that it sounded very, very strange. Under the circumstances, it was beyond bizarre that IF a family member wanted to kill the lady, they'd have chosen fire as the method. I have helped to care for someone under similar conditions, and believe me, if a caregiver wants to hasten the demise of an invalid, in most cases it would not be difficult at all.

Of course it is heartbreaking that the mother/mother-in-law died the way she did - and it is also heartbreaking that the Dahlman family has had to go through this! I can't imagine the horror and stress they've endured.

(And to the poster "The 5-0" - you are mis-interpreting other posts rather badly. Makes me wonder if you are one of the "investigators" who was responsible for the charges against the Dahlmans.)

I have to say, I am sickened at the way the Dahlmans were treated in this case. Assistant District Attorney Warren Sellers has some 'splainin to do.

To even suggest at a bond hearing that Francis Dahlman's seizure warrented treatment when there is a do-not-resuscitate order in place is way out of line. I have had hospice in my home for a loved one. I know that hospice is not for people who just want someone to play cards with on a lonely afternoon; they are called when someone's life expectancy is very close to the end with no hope for recovery.

It is my sincere wish that the Dahlmans can move on and grieve their loved one in peace.

The 5-0's picture

Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders do not come into play when someone HAS BEEN SET ON FIRE!

Where exactly did you read that the do-not-resuscitate orders were used when she was on fire? Certainly not in my post.

If you are indeed in law enforcement as you claim to be, I certainly hope it is not in ANY area of authority over the public.

The 5-0's picture

I certainly hope that you are never my health care provider when I go into hospice!

bringinabroom's picture

Is anybody minding the store over there ?

Lentini is convincing.

"The whole thing stinks--- time for a Spring Cleaning."

Mike King's picture

Either way this story pans out, it is simply our highly acclaimed police that must step up and accept responsibility. Responsibility for the hurt and shame caused by a 'rush' to levy charges that the DA claims to be unprovable or responsibility to those it is sworn to protect by botching the case all together.

I guess the additional twenty-some police officers added over the last two plus years got a bit carried away. I guess they'll add another captain or two for better supervision.

The 5-0's picture

I have to disagree with you on this one.

Police departments don't take the lead role in arson investigations. That is up to the local fire department and their fire marshal and arson investigator.

Local law enforcement gets involved, but that's mostly a secondary role. Example- the arson investigator from the F.D. photographs the scene, documents evidence, takes custody of evidence, processes the evidence, types of their report and testifies at trial (if necessary).
Police and Sheriff's Deputies secure the outer scene, take statements, type up a much less detailed report and later confer with the arson investigator and fire department to determine what route to take next.

If there's anyone to blame, it's the mishandling of evidence by the F.D. arson guy. They still probably had enough to continue with the trial, but I guess Ballard didn't want to take a chance.

*Note- just because the charges have been temporary dropped, they can be recharged any time in the future.

Mike King's picture

Thinking the PD was the lead is my bad, and thanks for the correction.

Obviously, the PD was involved and could have provided advice or suggestions reference culpability or evidence handling, but it is what it is. Either way, the city takes a hit.

Hopefully, the affected family can move on.

The 5-0's picture

The problem with arson investigations is two-fold;

1- Finding (and thus paying for) a properly trained and experienced arson investigator that will follow each of the tests to exact specifications.

2- In order to do a proper arson investigation (which also resulted in suspected murder), you need to do a proper scene recreation. That means rebuilding the basement, the chair, the "body", the blankets, the candle, the table, the correct air pressure/temperature/humidity, etc... To do an investigation that will stand up to a professional arson defense attorney, the city has to be prepared to spend at least $50-$100k.

It's a nightmare.

Do you suppose all those people who wanted the "fire" couple hung without a trial cost will now make good to these poor people?

What is a scene recreation? Maybe it is "have a beer," or post office!

In this particular case the Peachtree City Fire Investigator/Fire Marshall conducted the origin and cause exam, collected evidence that he was made aware of and then stored that evidence for further scientific exam, which was conducted by outside experts.

At no time was the Fire Marshall/Fire Investigator a Sworn Law Enforcement Officer and has no ability to conduct a "criminal" investigation. The case was assigned to a Police Detective that was supposed to work with the Fire Marshall/Fire Investigator, not against him. The Police Department investigator failed to listen to numerous outside experts along with one internal expert that the open flame of the candle caused the fire and there was no evidence to support that either one of the people charged with caring for her had anything to do with setting the fire.

In an effort to conduct a more thorough investigation the Fire Marshall suggested another set of eyes exam the evidence and requested the State Fire Marshall to assist. It was at this point the the Peachtree City Fire Marshall was kept out of the investigation because in his professional opinion and based upon the evidence on hand he could not determine the exact cause of the fire. In fact he was leaning towards a combustible material coming in contact with an open flame as the cause of the fire. The missing sheet would have been evidence of an accidental contact of a combustible material to a direct flame. This would have been supported by both the pictures and the microscope exam of the remaining wax. The State Fire Marshall's assumption that the fire was an act of arson was an assumption at best and we see where assumption's have gotten everyone in the public safety arena. You have an experienced investigator that has been wrongly accused of messing up a case that should have never been a case to begin with.

Fire Marshall Daly did an excellent job at conducting the "origin and cause" exam and did so in accordance with the known guidelines especially NFPA 921. It was the Police Department and the State Fire Marshall that was prepared to move forward and make the assumptions that have been listed in their reports.

In this Country we are supposed to be "innocent" until proven guilty, not guilty and hope we can disprove the state's case.

5-0 you are correct there is no statute of limitations on Homicide but there should be some level of accountability on behalf of a Law Enforcement official or Department that failed to adhere to the National Guide Lines on how to conduct a fire investigation. If the cause of the fire is undetermined then there is no crime, no crime no charges at any point. I only wish the two that were charged in this case that had to spend thousands of dollars had some financial recourse to recoup there money based upon a faceless and false accusation.

I applaud the District Attorney's office for dropping the charges only wish the correct facts had been presented as to the reason they were being dismissed. For that I say Shame on them because the truth is the truth and in this case there are a good many people who know what the truth was. THEY didn't do it!

Everyone has their right to speech and justify what they want on this "Forum" mind you. Overall I agree with what Eliza said. I'm kinda curious to how defensive you're becoming about this whole entire situation. By simply making a statement. I'm pretty sure we are all adults here not some 10 year olds in Elementary School.

I think what happened to the Fire Marshall in definitely was wrong. Whatever the outcome is however it will be left in Gods good hands no matter who is at fault.

Do you work for the police department? Justifying your position? It does not take an intelligent individual to see that someone in an "End of Life" situation can be disposed with less fan-fare than a fire. Especially if there is a DNR and history of health issues (the hospice care situation).

You seem to be very aggressive in pointing fingers in every direction. My concern is that we have only received what has been let out. I decided to attend the hearings and am quite concerned that we may have a Barny Fife as a detective. We need to look at the root cause if this issue and not jump to any conclusions.

IMHO, the detective did some fancy dancing and should be considered for DWTS next season. Why does it seem that when an officer is testifying that they appear pompous or self-righteous?

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