From PBS Frontline comes fantastic news! David Lee Gavitt is free after modern forensic arson detection determined there was no arson but an accidental fire.
Gavitt is amongst several who have had their cases re-examined and thankfully, have been freed from prison and some from death row. Alas, all this comes too late for Willingham. However, it might further the case of Daniel Dougherty.
Back to Gavitt!
A quote from Frontline: “Gavitt’s case involves both a crucial error in forensic science and the debunking of myths that have been part of arson investigation for decades: A lab erroneously concluded that a carpet sample contained evidence of gasoline, and investigators assumed that a fire that burned quickly as the one in the Gavitt household must have been intentionally set. We now know that because of a scientific phenomena called “flashover,” a fire can burn hot and fast without being set on purpose — and can leave patterns on a surface that can be mistaken as pour patterns.
“In light of modern fire science, there is simply not one shred of credible evidence that the fire at the Gavitt residence was intentionally set,” wrote John Lentini, an expert in fire science, in an affidavit presented to a judge last fall by the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, who worked extensively on Gavitt’s case.”
The Detroit Free Press‘ picture caption says it all: “After leaving prison a free man Wednesday, David Lee Gavitt of Ionia makes his first stop: a visit to the cemetery to be with his wife and daughters. It was the first time he’d been there. He tried to save them from a 1985 fire, but they died of smoke inhalation. The Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School fought for his release using modern fire science.”
Gavitt’s situation is similar to Willingham’s. Both opened a door and a surge of oxygen reached the fire in the house. It turned into a house on fire. Flashover was misunderstood decades ago and we still have people incarcerated for accidental fires. Read more here.
Also, check out this #cclivechat with Andrew Wade about fire investigations.