Ionia Man Cleared Of Arson Charges After 26 Years In Jail

After a long 26 years in jail, an Ionia man has been cleared of charges that he murdered his family. In 1986 David Lee Gavitt was convicted of murdering his wife and daughters. Years later, prosecutors have admitted that the evidence used to convict him was faulty, and Gavitt should never have been sent to jail.

In Michigan arson is the deliberate burning of a house or building. If you are under investigation for, or have been charged with arson it’s important to consult with a Michigan arson attorney right away. The penalties can be serious, and often depend on the intent behind the act, the amount of damage done, and whether or not someone was seriously injured or killed. In some situations, an arson conviction could put you in jail for as long as 20 years. If an arson crime results in the deliberate death or serious injury of another person, the penalties include up to life in prison.

Here, a jury convicted Gavitt of first-degree felony murder and he was sentenced to mandatory life in prison. The University of Michigan’s innocence project challenged Gavitt’s arson conviction with the use of modern fire science. Based on the Innocence Clinic’s efforts, Gavitt was able to leave the prison a free man. According to the Detroit Free Press, Gavitt’s case is one of a handful of arson cases nationwide that that have been challenged by the innocence projects.

In Chicago last week, prosecutors dropped charges against James Kluppelberg, a man who had spent close to 22 years in prison for setting a fire. Just like Gavitt, experts say Kluppelberg was convicted of murder on the basis of outdated fire science.


An Ionia County Prosecutor has asked Circuit Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger to sign an order granting Gavitt a new trial, but noted that the new trial will not be held because the evidence used to convict him was flawed.

The clinic’s experts showed that a Michigan State Police crime lab technician — who has since died – made mistakes when testing the carpet from Gavitt’s home, erroneously concluding that it contained traces of gasoline. Based on modern fire science, investigators mistakenly ruled the fire an arson.

If the investigation would have occurred today, the fire would not have been ruled a crime.

The prosecutor in the case noted, “We now know that the evidence introduced at trial was not good.”

Gavitt was convicted back in 1986, at a time when fire science was based on misconceptions. In 1992, new rules were adopted to help guide fire investigations.

Unfortunately, Gavitt’s life was devastated by the conviction, and many more individuals across the country were wrongfully convicted of arson charges based on faulty evidence.

If you have been charged with arson or any other criminal offense, contact the top Michigan criminal defense attorneys at Grabel & Associates right away. We are dedicated to protecting you from wrongful convictions and will fight to protect your future.

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