After spending 35 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit, John Galvan, who used Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters as part of his defence, has finally been freed.
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Story Behind Galvan’s Imprisonment
Back in September of 1986, there was an apartment fire in Southwest Chicago that had taken the lives of two brothers. The two siblings that managed to escape the fire informed the authorities that they suspected that their neighbour was the one that was responsible for the fire and that she had set it in retaliation for her own brother’s death, which others believed had been caused by the Latin Kings (a street gang).
The neighbour in turn accused Galvan (an 18-year-old who, at the time of the fire, had been at his grandmother’s house, fast asleep), his brother and a third neighbour of the crime. After more accusations were fired at the three men by multiple neighbours, all three of them were arrested and later convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated arson.
When Galvan was being interrogated, he was informed by officers that if he incriminated others with the crime he would be allowed to go home (Arthur Almendarez was offered the same deal). Instead, all three men signed statements that claimed they had set the fire using a Molotov cocktail that had been thrown through a window to do so.
Both Galvan and Almendarez later stated that they had signed the statements after suffering through physical abuse and the third convicted had signed while intoxicated and had not had his rights read to him.
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How Mythbusters Proved his Innocence
In the statement signed by the three men it was further claimed that the Molotov cocktails had been lit with a cigarette, and that became their saving grace. Galvan happened to be watching a rerun episode from Mythbusters during which they were trying to figure out whether the Hollywood trope of igniting gasoline with a lit cigarette was realistic or just false movie magic.
Turns out that no matter what you do, it is impossible to use a lit cigarette to ignite gasoline. This was further proven by a research team at ATF (America’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) who did the same experiment and tried to ignite gasoline with a cigarette in 2000 different ways, but they were all failures.
Upon seeing the Mythbusters episode, Galvan immediately contacted his lawyer who just so happened to have watched the same episode and began a further investigation into Galvan’s case.
With the proof that it is impossible to ignite gasoline with a lit cigarette, accompanied by the testimony from multiple witnesses saying that the officers who had interrogated the three men were known for using violence in different situations, the convictions of all three men were overturned and they were released from prison.
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The director of the Innocence Project, Rebecca Black, came forward to speak about the importance of “establishing such mechanisms for people to get back into court when science changes or evolves, or when experts repudiate past testimony. Without these mechanisms in many instances, innocent people are prevented from presenting forensic evidence of their innocence after their wrongful conviction.”
John Galvan hopes to have his own space soon and revisit some of his earlier passions, like painting. And watching Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, of course.