SAN FRANCISCO -- Modesto prosecutors announced they will retry a man found by a federal judge to be "actually innocent" of starting a 1997 house fire that killed a woman and her two children.
A federal judge last month ordered the state to release George Souliotes, 72, who has served 16 years for a triple-murder arson, or retry him immediately.
Although Modesto prosecutors said there was "ample" evidence of guilt, state prosecutors have already conceded they could not prove the Modesto house fire was deliberately set.
Much of the scientific evidence used to convict the Greek immigrant has since been discredited.
In a news release Monday, Stanislaus County Dist. Atty. Birgit Fladager said Souliotes will be returned to the county for a retrial, saying there is "ample admissible evidence which compels a retrial of the defendant for the murders of a mother and her two young children."
District Judge Anthony W. Ishii had ordered Souliotes released unless California prosecutors decided to retry him for the 1997 fire, which broke out at his Modesto property as he was attempting to evict Michelle Jones, 31, and her children, 8 and 3.
Relying on patterns and markings in the burned 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.
"George is an innocent man. He waited way too long," Jimmy McBirney, who represented Souliotes along with attorneys from the Northern California Innocence Project, said earlier.