26-year-old David Lee Gavitt and his wife, Angela, lived in Ionia, Michigan, with their two daughters, 3-year-old Katrina and 11-month-old Tracy. On the night of 9 March, 1985, David and Angela retreated for bed after watching television. David had lit some candles as they watched television and forgot to blow them out when they went to the bedroom. This would be an accident he would live to regret for the rest of his life. A couple of hours after the young couple went to bed, they were awoken by their dog scratching at the bedroom door. When David opened it to see what he wanted, he was aghast to see that the living room was up in flames. As Angela rushed to awaken the girls, David smashed open a back window so that the family could escape. Once the window was smashed, David attempted to reach the girls but by now, the fire was raging. He was unable to force his way to their bedroom. As he called out to Angela, he heard no reply.
Neighbours who see the the flames called the fire department while David kept attempting to re-enter the house. Unfortunately, it was much too late for Angela, Katrina and Tracy. As if losing his wife and children wasn’t enough, investigators announced that they believed that the fire was started intentionally and David was the main suspect. Following his discharge from the hospital, he was charged with their murders. Investigators at the trial had contended that the fire was started with a flammable liquid due to the fact that there was so-called “pour patterns” on the floor, indicating something had been poured. Despite the fact that several witnesses saw David relentlessly attempt to rescue his family combined with the fact that there was no motivation, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1986.
It wouldn’t be until 2010 that the case got a second look. After learning about the inconsistencies within the case, the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School decided they would re-investigate. Several experts were called in to examine the evidence found within the home. They discovered that a flashover had occurred, as opposed to a liquid being used to ignite the fire. A flashover is a rare phenomenon in which a fire explodes and completely takes over a room, engulfing it in fire almost immediately.
In June of 2012, David’s charges were dismissed and he as released from prison. He later filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. This lawsuit was dismissed.