CARSON CITY, Mich. (WOOD) - After more than a quarter-century behind bars, David Gavitt has been released from a prison in Carson City.
He was convicted in 1986 of setting fire to his home. His wife and two young daughters died in the blaze. That conviction was dismissed Wednesday.
A hearing was held Tuesday and Gavitt, 54, was set free around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Court documents show that circuit court Judge Suzanne Kreegor dismissed the charges against Gavitt, and ordered he be released from prison.
Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer did not challenge the defense's motion. After an independent investigation, Schafer agreed with the defense team that the science used to prove the arson doesn't hold up to today's standards.
Schafer told 24 Hour News 8 based on the evidence they have, the fire would be ruled "of undetermined cause" instead of arson. He said he doesn't plan to re-file charges against Gavitt, and doesn't have enough evidence to convict Gavitt if he was tried today.
"His original conviction was vacated and all the charges have been dismissed," said Caitlin Plummer. Plummer was a student when the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic took Gavitt's case in 2010. "It's as if it never happened."
Plummer said she and a case partner initially did the majority of the research and work on Gavitt's case. She currently is an attorney herself for the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the a University of Wisconsin.
On March 9, 1985, a fire broke out in the home on the 500 block of Johnson Street in Ionia, trapping Gavitt's wife Angie and their daughters 3-year-old Catrina and 11-month-old Tracy.
Gavitt escaped and told police and his family that he tried to get back inside to save his family.
"He broke out the hallway window and ended up slicing his arms," his sister, Oleisia Moor, told 24 Hour News 8 in April.
But Gavitt's wife and daughters died.
Soon after Gavitt was released from the hospital in 1985 for the burns and cuts he received when he tried to rescue his family, he was arrested for setting the fire that killed them. He was eventually charged with arson and their three murders.
Investigators determined Gavitt set the fire.
But ti me and technology has cast doubt on the experts' findings.
The initial investigation said the fire was intentionally set and claimed to have found evidence of gasoline in the home. According to court documents, a new investigation in which the original results were examined determined that no gas was in the house.
That fact along with several others involving the science of the crime are why prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that much the initial evidence is wrong.
Schafer told 24 Hour News 8, he believes the initial arson investigation was thorough but the science has evolved a lot since then. Schafer also said he believes that there are a lot of unanswered questions in this case, whether or not he has the evidence to re-try Gavitt.
"He's just doing his job," said Plummer about the prosecutor's opinion. "He's obviously entitled to that opinion and were just really happy that he did what he did in this case, and that's all that mattered to us."
Plummer told 24 Hour News 8 Gavitt's release was "really, really emotional. Not only has he spent 27 years in prison, but this was a really tragic event that happened to him and his family. His wife and two daughters died, and then, you know, he didn't really have time to grieve before he was in prison."
Gavitt's sister Moore never believed he was guilty of setting the fire.
"I don't want to say I gave up hope but I was frustrated with the entire process," Moore told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday. "Knowing full well that he was innocent, and how they can put him away for something he didn't do?"
She said she waited a long time for him to be freed.
"L ayin ' in bed at night, I sit in bed and dream about getting him out and showing him so much that he's missed," said Moore.
Gavitt got to visit the three graves of his wife and children for the first time on Wednesday. His sister requested 24 Hour News 8 not go to the cemetery, but she did say that the image of her brother at the grave site will be burned in her mind forever.
24 Hour News 8's Joe LaFurgey, Dani Carlson and Marlee Ginter contributed to this report.
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