While many cases focus on DNA evidence, one man recently had his conviction overturned thanks to an unexpected source: an episode of “MythBusters.” The show showed that you couldn’t light a puddle of gasoline with a lit cigarette, something Juan Galvan was accused of doing in the 1980s, resulting in the deaths of two men in Chicago.
A man has been released from prison after serving 35 years of wrongful conviction, thanks to the rerun of an old MythBusters episode.
Thanks to the chapter, Juan Galvan was able to scientifically prove his innocence. The show made it clear that you couldn’t light a puddle of gasoline with a lit cigarette, something he was accused of doing in the 1980s, resulting in the deaths of two men in Chicago.
John Galvan had been in prison for 21 years when he happened to watch a rerun of the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters in 2007.
To their surprise and delight, in the episode – which focused on busting Hollywood myths by attempting to scientifically recreate movie scenes – the show’s hosts, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, attempted to use a cigarette to light a puddle of gasoline.
Their attempt failed miserably, and the duo came to the conclusion that this common scenario in action movies is not really possible.
Lawyers from the Innocence Project defend Galvan
From that point, Galvan’s story slowly began to change: fifteen years after seeing the episode, and after extensive legal work, Galván and his lawyers from the Innocence Project convinced a judge to overturn his conviction and of two other men who were also found guilty.
“Honestly, it was shocking to me… I feel like we’ve all seen movies where they light the gas on the street with a cigarette and the car explodes,” explained Galván’s attorney, Tara Thompson.
“I never really thought much about whether or not that could be real,” he added.
“When I saw this episode of MythBusters, as a lawyer, it made me realize that there are things you have to dig into: you can’t take science for granted until you research it,” she added.
— The Innocence Project (@innocence) October 7, 2022
Fire in Chicago
In September 1986, two brothers died in an apartment fire in southwest Chicago.
Two other brothers managed to escape the fire and told authorities they believed the fire was set by a neighbor in retaliation for their brother’s death, allegedly at the hands of a street gang known as the Latin Kings, explains the Innocence Project.
The neighbor pointed to John Galvan, 18, his brother and a third neighbor as responsible. Other residents also accused the three, and John, who was sleeping at his grandmother’s house at the time of the fire, was arrested without further evidence to implicate him. The same thing happened with the other two defendants.
According to the Innocence Project, using force and deceptive interrogation techniques, police told Galván that he could go home if he ratted out the other detainees.
Galván also claimed that while he was asserting his innocence, the detective conducting the interrogation beat him and told him that he would receive the death penalty if he did not confess.
Eventually, the three defendants, exhausted by detectives and promised they could go home if they did, signed documents pleading guilty to arson and first-degree murder. They were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mythbusters helped prove the innocence of Juan Galván
Although Galván never gave up proving his innocence. It took two decades and an episode of MythBusters to get it.
The key point that helped him annul his conviction was in Galván’s own statement, in which he stated that he lit a Molotov cocktail with a cigarette. But, as the Innocence Project explains, the MythBusters episode proved that this was not possible.
“I remember that I was excited, I felt extremely happy… I felt that all this was finally beginning to come to light,” he added.
Digging deeper, they found even more evidence to back up what the TV show showed. That same year, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted experiments in lighting gasoline with cigarettes.
They made 2,000 attempts to ignite the gasoline under different conditions and were never successful. They too concluded that it simply wasn’t possible.
“Despite what you see in action movies, dropping a lit cigarette into a trail of gasoline will not ignite it, assuming oxygen levels are normal and there are no unusual circumstances,” said Richard Tontarski, a forensic scientist and then head of the ATF fire investigation lab.
“That’s because the gasoline has limited contact with the hottest, brightest part of the ash, and X-ray thermography has shown it to be very localized,” he added.
Galván’s legal team obtains his exoneration
Finally, thanks to arson experts attesting to the impossibility of igniting gasoline with cigarettes, and several witnesses testifying that the policeman who took the statements resorted to violent coercion elsewhere, Galván’s legal team got their case. exoneration.
A few years later, on his own appeals, all three convictions were overturned.
“Mr. Galván’s case speaks to the critical importance of putting these mechanisms in place so that people can go back to court when the science changes or evolves, or when experts repudiate prior testimony,” Rebecca Brown, director, said in a news release. policy of the Innocence Project.
“Without these mechanisms, in many cases, innocent people are prevented from presenting forensic evidence of their innocence after their wrongful conviction,” he concluded.
Although Galván can’t make up for the 35 years he lost and doesn’t deny the difficulty of trying to adjust to a new world, he is looking forward to having his own space to call home.
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