A Modesto landlord convicted of murder in the 1997 deaths of a mother and her two children will get another chance to argue for a new trial at a hearing Jan. 24 in federal court in Fresno.
George Souliotes, 70, is serving a life sentence at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga for the 2000 murder conviction in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
The jury determined Souliotes set fire to his northwest Modesto rental home, killing 30-year-old mother Michelle Jones, her 6-year-old son Daniel Jr. and 3½-year-old daughter Amanda in 1997.
The fire swept through the home the Jones family had rented from Souliotes. The Ronald Avenue home was west of Tully Road and just north of West Briggsmore Avenue.
In August, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th District granted Souliotes a chance to argue his case for a new trial in a lower court. Previously, two other courts refused to hear his appeals.
The hearing will be held before U.S. Magistrate Michael J. Seng in Fresno.
Souliotes and his defense lawyers will try to show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted him given new evidence in the case.
Prosecutors told jurors during Souliotes' two trials — the first ended in a hung jury — that a flammable substance found on shoes in Souliotes' home matched a compound that ignited the fire.
But years later, a scientist discovered a process by which he could distinguish the substance on the shoes from substances in the fire debris. They were found to be chemically different and came from different sources, experts learned.