IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) - Twenty-seven years ago, he fought 1,000+ degree heat and choking black smoke desperately trying to get his wife and two young daughters out of their burning home in Ionia.
Today, David Lee Gavitt sits in a Michigan prison, waiting to hear if an appeal of his murder conviction will set him free.
His sister hopes it will happen, but worries about what her brother's life may be like if it does.
"It's got to change him," Oleisia Moor told 24 Hour News 8. "I'm worried about what he's going to be like when he gets out. I'm worried about what he's going to be able to handle. The changes that have happened in the three decades that he's been in there."
On March 9, 1985, the fire broke out in the home on North Johnson Street, trapping Gavitt's wife, Angie, and their daughters, 3-year-old Catrina and 11-month-old Tracy.
Moor said her brother escaped and tried to get back inside to get to the girls. "He broke out the hallway window and ended up slicing his arms."
But the fire was too far along. His wife and daughters died.
The family tragedy, though, was far from over.
Soon after he was released from the hospital for the burns and cuts he received when he tried to rescue his family, Gavitt was arrested for their murder. Investigators determined Gavitt had set the fire.
During the 1987 trial that ended in his conviction, experts testified they'd found pour patterns and intense low burns which, to them, pointed to a fire fueled by gasoline.
Prosecutors don't have to prove a motive as part of their case. So the question of why Gavitt would kill his family was never explained.
The jury based their decision on the facts presented, much of it from the arson experts.
But time and technology has cast doubt on the experts' findings.
The lawyers with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic have put together an appeal they hope will set David Lee Gavitt, now 53 and serving time at the Carson City Corrections Center, free.
"I'm starting to have a little bit more faith because I'm starting to see that there's good people out there who believe in him and believe that he didn't do it," said Moor.
Many of the findings which led to his arson conviction came about during the dark days of arson science, as the Innocence Clinic lawyers called it. It happened "during the decades when countless accidental fires were deemed arson by 'experts' who misread signg of natural fires," wrote clinic lawyers.
There is a domino effect on old arson cases across the nation.
New research is giving new insight into how flames spread and what their aftermath really tells investigators.
"Our scientific understandings have improved in recent years, and the effect of that has to be to say, 'We've got some innocent people who've been declared guilty based on misunderstandings,'" said John Hall, director of analysis and research for the National Fire Protection Association in a recent Associated Press article.
For example, decades ago, it was common for investigators to conclude an accelerant like gasoline was used if a fire burned particularly hot.
In fact, the new arson science has found no such correlation, experts say.
Another mistaken assumption: a V-shaped pattern on a wall of a burned building is proof of arson. All it shows is where a fire started, according to the AP article.
It was that same kind of evidence lawyers with the Innocence Clinic sent to John Lentini . The nation's leading expert in debunking so-called bad arson science, Lentini concluded the fire at the Gavitt home "was not a gasoline-fueled fire, and there is no evidence whatsoever that any crime occurred," according to the clinic.
Some of that evidence included carpet samples that experts from Gavitt's trial said contained traces of gasoline. But clinic experts retested the same carpet and found no evidence of an accelerant.
The Innocence Clinic presented their findings to Ionia County Prosecutor Ronald Schaeffer in August 2011. Schaeffer is still reviewing the case facts. A hearing to give the judge an update on the case is set for later this month.
Past attempts to win Gavitt's freedom have not been successful. His family has learned not to get their hopes up.
But they're not giving up hope either.
"We can't focus on the negatives," his sister said. "Just kind of go from there. Take it day-by-day and see what each day brings."
Fred Glespie was found not guilty in the death of three children who died in an apartment fire.
Police are looking for the suspect in an armed robbery that occurred at a gas station in Plainwell Thursday night.
The rink will be open that day from 3-9 p.m.