‘Burning Bed’ murder case: defense attorney looks back

Mar 30, 2017

UPDATE: The former Francine Hughes has died in Alabama at the age of 69. See related story.

Forty years ago Thursday, Francine Hughes of Dansville entered the Ingham County Jail and confessed to setting her house on fire with her sleeping ex-husband inside. James “Mickey” Hughes had long abused the mother of three. Asleep in bed when the fire started, he died of smoke inhalation.

A former prosecuting attorney named Arjen Greydanus was appointed to represent Hughes in her first degree murder trial. His innocent by reason of temporary insanity defense won her acquittal. The story went on to become both a book and a TV movie called “The Burning Bed.”

Now retired, Greydanus talks about the Francine Hughes “Burning Bed” case.

"Forty years ago," Greydanus says, "there really was no comprehensive approach to domestic abuse. There was a lot of domestic abuse going on; police were going in and were not really treating the situation very well. Society was very male oriented, would simply not give an ear to what the women were saying."

Author Faith McNulty wrote the book "The Burning Bed" about the Hughes case, and her research included talks with Hughes and with Greydanus. He praises the book as telling the story accurately. The movie, though, "is not very accurate" in his estimation. "It's a very dramatic movie, and does a very good job of presenting the cruelty and the horror of that kind of a situation. But factually, as movies will do, it is not very accurate."

One of his issues with the film was that the setting included mountains and palm trees not seen in Michigan.

As for Francine Hughes' life in the intervening 40 years, not much is known. Shunning the spotlight, she reportedly has remarried and now lives somewhere in the southern states. "I have heard things about their situation," Greydanus states, "but I can't really say anything about that because it may not be accurate."