After 35 Years in Prison John Galvan Proves His Innocence After Watching an Episode of ‘Mythbusters’
The episode in question was demystifying some common tropes in Hollywood movies, including the claim that throwing a lit cigarette on gasoline will immediately set ablaze everything in its path.
After being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, John Galvan has finally been released thanks to an episode of “Mythbusters” he watched in 2007 that focused on Hollywood tropes that are scientifically impossible.
Galvan was charged with arson and murder after a fire took the lives of two brothers in a two-unit apartment building. He claimed he was coerced through intimidation and torture by Detective Victor Switski to sign a confession admitting he threw a lit cigarette onto a pool of gasoline in September of 1986.
According to Upworthy, the then-18-year-old Galvan was sleeping at his grandmother’s house on the night of the fire. He was only taken into police custody after a woman who was accused of the killings blamed Galvan for the fire in what was believed to be a Latin Kings-related act of revenge for the death of the woman’s brother.
21 years into his sentence, Galvan happened to catch an episode of the popular Discovery show “Mythbusters” hosted by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. The episode in question was demystifying some common tropes in Hollywood movies, including the claim that throwing a lit cigarette on gasoline will immediately set ablaze everything in its path.
After watching the episode, Galvan contacted his lawyer Tara Thompson. They coordinated Galvan’s third attempt at a post-conviction petition, this time equipped with scientific proof that Galvan did not commit the crime he was charged with.
Thompson admitted that she hadn’t thought too much about the scientific plausibility of what Galvan had been accused of. “It was honestly shocking to me… I feel like all of us have seen movies — like ‘Payback’ is a famous one — where they light the gasoline in the street with a cigarette and a car explodes,” she said, adding, “I really had never given much thought to whether or not that might be real.”
Thompson, who was working with The Innocence Project (an independent nonprofit that works to prevent wrongful convictions, free innocent people, and create a more equitable justice system) on Galvan’s case, added that the episode had given her a new perspective on how to build a case for her clients and to never underestimate information from the unlikeliest of places.
The myth that was busted in that particular episode has been corroborated by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), who reportedly attempted to light a pool of gasoline with a lit cigarette over 2,000 times. According to The Scotsman, none of their attempts were successful.
Although Galvan was convinced he could win his third post-conviction petition, he was not given a chance to do so until 2017, a decade after the petition was submitted. Thompson came equipped with seven witnesses, including an expert on arson who agreed that what Galvan had confessed to was scientifically impossible. She also called on previous victims of Detective Switski, who was accused of torturing them similarly to get confessions.
And yet, the prosecutors still denied the science and pushed for Galvan to remain behind bars. “Even then, they really did not want to accept that this was not possible,” Thompson said. “I find that very telling about the state of science and the law… that these things that we probably should accept as true in the legal space, the system does not always want to accept.”
Several appeals later, Galvan was released in 2022 after 35 years behind bars for a crime with which he had nothing to do. Strangely enough, Galvan wasn’t released because of the scientific facts he and Thompson had brought to the case, but because he was coerced into a confession following the use of “enhanced interrogation” tactics.
Galvan said he is looking forward to getting back to life on the outside and plans to spend his days drawing and painting. He currently posted an Amazon wish list for anyone who wants to support him during his transition.