IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) - When David Gavitt entered prison convicted of murdering his family, he said, he never planned to stay there.
"Really hadn't had the chance to grieve for them. I had to fight," Gavitt said in his first local television interview since his release. "I had to fight for my freedom. I had to fight for the truth to come out."
26 years ago, Gavitt was convicted of setting the March 8, 1985 fire that led to the death of his wife and two young daughters -- 26-year-old Angela, 3-year-old Katrina and 11-month-old Tracy -- at an Ionia home.
"Being incarcerated for what they said I did doesn't even come close to the hell of losing your wife and daughters. That is the ultimate hell that I've been through," said Gavitt. "I thought there was no hope. I was going to die an innocent man in prison, I thought."
In June, Gavitt walked out of an Ionia County Prison as a free man for the first time since 1986.
Much has changed in the 26 years since the fire -- the technology used to determine arson has improved and we have a clearer understanding of how fires behave.
The investigation into the flames was at the heart of an appeal by the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic for Gavitt's release.
Jurors say a big part of their conviction was the science presented at trial. 26 years later, new technology proved that evidence wrong.
"In David's case, it was a pure science case. No motive was ever presented," said Imran Syed, an attorney with the Innocence Clinic.
At the heart of the problem were reports that a scientist testified showed that Gavitt poured gasoline throughout the house before setting a fire. If it had been gas, the peaks and valley's of the report should have matched the peaks and valleys of a report made from a known gas sample.
While an expert testified in 2006 that the report was positive for gas. several analysts have now found that it was wrong -- the reports don't match. There was no gas.
"That was something else," said Syed. "They got it wrong."
Gavitt's defense attorney at the time went on to have a storied career as a well-known defense attorney and Kent County judge. The case holds special distinction for him as the only murder case where he full-heartedly felt he saw an innocent man go to prison.
"There were a lot of people thinking that there were just too many holes in the prosecution, but the jury saw it otherwise," said defense attorney Dennis Kolenda.
The news about the flawed arson findings didn't sit well with a man who served as a juror on the case.
"Made the best decision at the time that I thought I could have," said Ken Slate. He was one of the jurors who initially declared Gavitt guilty. "If he's really innocent, then I'm really sorry that we made that decision."
But Gavitt's case is proof of an age-old lesson.
"Everyone of us makes mistakes, and that means that police, jury, judges all make mistakes on occasion," said Kolenda.
With the new information in hand, prosecutors decided that there was not enough evidence to successfully re-charge Gavitt with the murders. His conviction was overturned and a judge ordered Gavitt released from prison.
Moments after walking out of the prison doors, Gavitt headed to the cemetery to visit his family's graves for the first time.
In the weeks since his release, Gavitt has been working to put his life back together.
"Got to get a driver's license, got to get a car, a job," he said. "I haven't caught up to 2012 yet. Makes me feel stupid."
Usually the release from prison is a gradual process aimed to help convicts have a smooth re-entry into society. But Gavitt was released from prison custody at once and afforded no such help.
"It's not fair that parolees and people maxing out get government assistance, but exonorees get nothing," he said.
Gavitt is now living in an undisclosed location and being cared for by a woman he plans to marry. The two met after a mutual friend shared Gavitt's story with the woman and they became friends as Gavitt fought for his freedom.
Despite his release, Gavitt said he still has frustrations about being imprisoned for so long on evidence that was later proven to be wrong.
"I get frustrated," Gavitt said. "How can this happen to somebody? Why does this happen to somebody?"
Gavitt said he realizes he may never have answers to those questions. No one has offered an apology and some involved with the case have expressed their continued belief that Gavitt committed the crime of which he was originally convicted.
Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer, who signed off to allow Gavitt's freedom, said there are some things that just don't add up with Gavitt's story.
But still, Schafer found the evidence just isn't there to bring charges against Gavitt again.
But Kolenda isn't willing to say the system failed Gavitt.
"I wouldn't say it failed him. It just took a long time to work," he said.
Gavitt said he plans to help find justice for a few others who he said are innocent and in prison.
"Obviously, there's a plan. What that plan is, I don't know," Gavitt
We get a brief break from the "lake-effect machine" Friday.
A few flurries occurred Thursday night. Lows held in the teens and the wind relaxed to the 5 to 10 mph range, with 20s at the Lake Michigan.
On Thursday, the medical examiner's office said CMU student Kelly Markatos died as a result of the eating disorder bulimia.