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How an Episode of ‘Mythbusters’ Helped a Wrongfully Convicted Man to Walk Free After 35 Years in Prison

John Galvan was only 18 when he was allegedly forced into confessing a crime he did not commit.
PUBLISHED 6 DAYS AGO
Cover Image Source: Image released by Innocence Project | Photo by Ray Abercrombie
Cover Image Source: Image released by Innocence Project | Photo by Ray Abercrombie

A man who spent 35 years in prison was acquitted of his crimes thanks to the TV show MythBusters. John Galvan was convicted in 1986 after the court found him guilty of committing arson that took the lives of two brothers, Guadalupe and Julio Martinez, CBS News reported. He was forced to spend 35 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

He was acquitted of his crimes thanks to the TV show Mythbusters. It was the hosts of the TV show MythBusters that unwittingly gave Galvan the proof needed to clear his name, Innocence Project reported. 

Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie
Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie

A fire that broke out in a Southwest Chicago flat in 1986 resulted in the death of the two brothers, CBS News reported. Galvan, his brother, and their neighbor Arthur Almendarez were taken into custody and charged with arson. Galvan claimed that two Chicago policemen threatened and forced him to take responsibility for the crime. They were forced to sign false statements. The police insisted that Galvan had lit a Molotov cocktail with a cigarette and the other two had thrown it through the window of the burn victims. In 2007, after Galvan had already spent 21 years in prison, he came across an episode of MythBusters on prison television.



 

The show's hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman used science as a tool to debunk rumors, urban legends and popular myths. Galvan saw the hosts debunking a movie trope that involved a pool of gasoline being lit with a cigarette. Galvan felt this knowledge combined with advanced science could help his case. He contacted his lawyer Tara Thompson, a member of the 'Innocence Project'  and alerted her to the new development. 

Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie
Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie

He still had to wait another decade before he could get a chance at his post-conviction claims. Thompson helped Galvan research the science behind the arson before producing the evidence before the court in 2017. Galvan and Thompson also produced seven witnesses including one who admitted that the investigating detective at that time had tortured them, The Innocence Project reported.

An arson specialist also declared that Galvan's confession was implausible. The prosecutors initially rejected the scientific explanations and Galvan had to wait until 2022 when he was finally released from prison along with his brother and Almendarez.

Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie
Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie

“Even then, they really did not want to accept that this was not possible,” Thompson recalled to Innocence Project. “I feel like that is the battle that we’re still fighting about science in the courtroom. Even though this is not really a disputed issue in arson science anymore, the prosecutor really wanted there to be a possibility that this could happen."

"Mr. Galvan’s case speaks to the critical importance of establishing such mechanisms for people to get back into court when science changes or evolves, or when experts repudiate past testimony,” Innocence Project Director of Policy Rebecca Brown said. “Without these mechanisms in many instances, innocent people are prevented from presenting forensic evidence of their innocence after their wrongful conviction.”



 

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