Justice on Fire

The Kansas City Firefighters Case and the Railroading of the Marlborough Five

J. Patrick O'Connor

On the night of November 29, 1988, near the impoverished Marlborough neighborhood in south Kansas City, an explosion at a construction site killed six of the city’s firefighters. It was a clear case of arson, and five people from Marlborough were duly convicted of the crime. But for veteran crime writer and crusading editor J. Patrick O’Connor, the facts—or a lack of them—didn’t add up. Justice on Fire is OConnor’s detailed account of the terrible explosion that led to the firefighters’ deaths and the terrible injustice that followed.

Justice on Fire describes a misguided eight-year investigation propelled by an overzealous Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent keen to retire; a mistake-riddled case conducted by a combative assistant US attorney willing to use compromised “snitch” witnesses and unwilling to admit contrary evidence; and a sentence of life without parole pronounced by a prosecution-favoring judge. In short, an abuse of government power and a travesty of justice. O’Connor’s own investigation, which uncovered evidence of witness tampering, intimidation, and prosecutorial misconduct, helped give rise to a front-page series of articles in the Kansas City Star—only to prompt a whitewashing inquiry by the Department of Justice that exonerated the lead ATF agent and named other possible perpetrators who remain unidentified and unindicted. O’Connor extends his scrutiny to this cover-up and arrives at a startling conclusion suggesting that the case of the Marlborough Five is far from closed.

Justice on Fire is a powerful book on the justice system and its perceived abuses.

—Kansas History

“This is a powerful story that needs to be told—and O’Connor knows how to tell it, flashing his narrative chops from the get-go with a riveting description of the explosions. As he acknowledges, O’Connor is an ‘advocate for the five convicted,’ and it is important to view the book through that lens.”

—Daniel S. Medwed, author of Prosecution Complex: America’s Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent

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Journalists are not supposed to make the news. But faced with a gross injustice, and seeing no other remedy, O’Connor felt he must step in. Justice on Fire is such an intervention.

About the Author

J. Patrick O’Connor has been the editor and publisher of Crime Magazine since 1998. O’Connor is the author of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Scapegoat: The Chino Hills Murders and the Framing of Kevin Cooper.