- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

FRANKTON, Ind. (AP) - The attorney for a man who had his conviction overturned in a central Indiana school arson says a $3 million lawsuit settlement will let him make a fresh start.

Billy Julian, 34, of Frankton, spent about three years in prison after being convicted of starting the March 2001 fire that caused nearly $2 million in damage at Frankton High School. He was released in 2006 after courts ruled a witness lied about seeing Julian at the school and that authorities knew he was at home on electronic monitoring.

Steven Art, a Chicago attorney who represented Julian, said insurance companies for the town of Frankton and Madison County agreed to the settlement of Julian’s federal lawsuit, which was closed by the court in August.

“I think for Billy it represents a final end to what has been a 15-year process of being wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit,” Art told The Herald Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1PQ6Mk4 ). “For him, this represents an opportunity to start over again. Nothing can give him the time back, but this will help him be able to start on a new life.”

Investigators said they believed three or more people broke into the school, about 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, and used a torch from the industrial arts classroom in an attempt to open a safe in the main office they believed held money and prescription drugs.

Heat from the torch caused steel to drip from the safe and catch the carpet on fire. The would-be thieves fled empty-handed.

A Madison County jury convicted Julian in 2003 of arson, burglary and attempted theft charges, and a judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison. Two other people were acquitted on charges in connection with the fire.

Lawyers for Frankton and Madison county declined to comment on the settlement, the newspaper reported. They didn’t immediately return telephone messages Thursday from The Associated Press.

Though he was named in the lawsuit as the head of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Scott Mellinger said he could not comment because he wasn’t with the agency during the fire investigation.

“Our current policies, procedures, training, and leadership are above reproach, and I stand by that fact,” he said.

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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