David Lee GavittThere was a fire at David's home on the night of March 9, 1985. David tried to find a way out for his family, but the flames and smoke proved too much. His wife and two young daughters died in the fire, and David, who barely escaped himself, spent several days in the hospital with burns and cuts.
From the beginning, the police and prosecution focused on proving that the fire was arson. The fire was just too hot and too fast, they said, to be a natural fire. Experts testified at trial to finding pour patterns on the floor and intense low burns, both of which they said indicated an intentional fire fueled by gasoline. Based on the expert testimony stressing the signs of arson, David was convicted—even though the prosecution never proved a conceivable mode or motive.
Upon reviewing David's case, the Innocence Clinic recognized immediately that it arose in the dark days of arson science: During the decades when countless accidental fires were deemed arson by "experts" who misread signs of natural fires. With the assistance of an outside lawyer specializing in arson cases, the Clinic presented the scientific evidence from David's case to John Lentini, the nation's leading expert in debunking bad arson science. He concluded that the fire at the Gavitt home was not a gasoline-fueled fire, and there is no evidence whatsoever that any crime occurred. David is innocent.
The Clinic filed a motion for relief from judgment on David's behalf in August 2011. The Ionia County Prosecutor agreed to conduct his own independent reevaluation of the case before official court proceedings would begin. In June 2012, the prosecutor agreed to drop all charges against David, and David was released from prison on June 6, 2012 --- just two days after his 54th birthday.
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