Michigan Murder Arson Case on Appeal: The Linda Stermer Story

Gavel and smoke depicting Linda Stermer murder arson case

It’s like a scene from a horror movie. Wife drugs husband, douses him in gasoline, sets fire to him, and when he escapes the house alive, runs him over with her van.

The other option is just as horrible: wife finds husband engulfed in flames in their living room, begs him to leave as she escapes the burning house, loses sight of him outside, and accidentally runs over him with her van as she tries to drive away for help.

Did either of these scenarios really happen?

The prosecutor of Linda Stermer’s overturned felony murder and arson conviction believes the first one is the truth.

The story Linda Stermer tells on 48 Hours special The Death of Todd Stermer is the second one. How is it possible one woman could be so unlucky?

Damaging Evidence

Todd Stermer died in 2007. His wife, Linda Stermer, was convicted in February 2010 of his death and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

However, she is now free and awaiting a decision of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court after the state of Michigan appealed the district court’s decision.

The evidence against her seemed damning:

  • Linda was having an affair with a coworker.
  • She had bought gasoline earlier in the day, and an attendant says she thought Stermer had been filling a can.
  • Todd Stermer’s clothing had gasoline on it.
  • A coworker testified that Linda had discussed how she would kill her husband, including running him over with a car.
  • Linda did run over her husband with her van. His blood was found on her bumper and undercarriage.

How Did Linda Stermer Win Her Appeal?

However, Linda Stermer’s defense attorney Jeff Getting – who is now the Kalamazoo County prosecutor – did not hire their own arson expert at the time. It was a decision that allowed for Linda’s eventual appeal.

Linda’s daughter convinced veteran fire investigator Robert Trankle to re-examine her mother’s case. It was his investigation that got Linda her hearing at the District Court. He warned her that if her mother had done the crime, he would find it out.

What Trankle found was that almost no investigation into the physical evidence of arson had taken place.

Investigators had not gathered or tested much debris or removed the section of the floor where the fire was thought to have originated to look at burn patterns.

If Trankle had been called to testify, he would have been able to provide his expert opinion that there was not enough evidence to suggest that the fire had been started deliberately.

The evidence did not support the state’s theory that Linda drugged and doused her husband with gasoline before starting the fire.

Not only were there no drugs in his system, but when Trankle spoke to dozens of firefighters and fire experts about someone’s ability to escape a building after having been doused with gasoline and set on fire, “they all laughed.”

If there is no physical evidence, the state’s other evidence is circumstantial or based on testimony from three questionable sources: two jailhouse informants and an angry coworker of Linda’s.

The one thing Linda can’t explain away is the fact that she ran over her husband with her van. She claims she doesn’t know when that happened.

Waiting for Judgment

The state of Michigan wants to put Linda Stermer back in prison for life. She awaits the decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals. You can watch the interviews with Linda and each of her four children and her nephew on the CBS 48 Hours special.

Grounds for Appeal

There are almost always grounds for appeal, even if you have been convicted of a crime.

If you are serving time for a crime you didn’t commit, an experienced criminal attorney can make all the difference. Let’s work together to appeal your conviction and help you move on with your life.

Let’s get started!