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Man who spent 35 years in prison walks free after using 'MythBusters' to prove his innocence

He had been wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he had no connection with and it was a small detail in the show that helped him prove his innocence.

Man who spent 35 years in prison walks free after using 'MythBusters' to prove his innocence
Cover Image Source: Innocence Project | Ray Abercrombie

Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 14, 2022. It has since been updated.

Wrongful incarceration poses a number of challenges in the United States. According to statistics, 4% to 6% of people imprisoned are actually innocent and a large proportion of these people belong to marginalized sections of society. Poor police work, abusive interrogations or a lack of technology to adequately examine the evidence frequently result in the conviction of innocent persons. While DNA evidence is normally what's used to prove someone's innocence, it was the TV show "MythBusters" that helped reverse the conviction of someone.



John Galvan was convicted in 1986 and found guilty of starting a fire that killed two brothers, Guadalupe and Julio Martinez. Galvan, who had been serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit for about 21 years, saw something on the prison television in 2007 that he believed would help him prove his innocence, according to My Modern Met. He saw a rerun of an episode of the Discovery Channel’s "MythBusters" titled "Hollywood Trial."



In an effort to disprove Hollywood cliches, hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage attempted to scientifically replicate movie scenes. Galvan noticed them attempting to light a pool of gasoline with a cigarette and became immediately intrigued. The two came to the unpleasant realization that this popular action movie scene isn't actually attainable after their abject failure. Galvan immediately contacted his lawyer with an idea that would ultimately lead to his release.



In September 1986, a fire broke out in a two-flat apartment in Southwest Chicago. The fire resulted in the death of the brothers and their siblings Blanca and Jorge survived. They told the police that a woman had threatened to burn their house down. When the woman was questioned she revealed nothing but pointed her finger at Galvan.

Mr. Galvan, his brother, and Arthur Almendarez, Mr. Galvin's neighbor, were allegedly involved in lighting the fire, according to Jose Ramirez and Rene Rodriguez, two neighbors who were also questioned by police. Police finally detained Mr. Galvan and his brother in addition to Mr. Almendarez and his brother, despite the fact that Mr. Galvan had been sleeping at his grandmother's house the night of the incident and that there was no other evidence linking him to the fire.



The person in charge of the interrogation, Detective Victor Switski, shackled Mr. Galvan to a wall and then intimidated and questioned him for hours, putting pressure on the 18-year-old to accuse others of the murder so that he could go home, according to The Innocence Project. He also threatened Galvan with the death penalty if he didn't confess. After being beaten down by the detectives, all three young men eventually signed statements admitting guilt.

They insisted that Galvan had lit his Molotov cocktail with a cigarette and that the men had set the fire by throwing Molotov cocktails through the window. Galvan, who is now 39 years old, recognized that the MythBusters episode demonstrating that was illogical from a scientific standpoint may support his claim. Fortunately, Tara Thompson, a member of the Innocence Project, had also seen the same show, and together they started looking into the science of arson.



Galvan regrettably had to wait another 10 years before being given a hearing on his post-conviction claims. However, Thompson was only able to finally deliver their findings to the court in 2017. They also produced seven witnesses, including one who claimed that the detective who had questioned Galvan had also tortured them, as well as an arson specialist who said that Galvan's confession was implausible. Despite this, the prosecutors denied that the science was correct. 

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." Instead, he was forced to wait until 2022 to be released despite making numerous petitions. The convictions of the other two men, who had also been incorrectly found guilty of the crime, were likewise overturned at the same time. All three men are finally free after serving a total of 105 years in jail for a crime they did not commit. 

Galvan has spent 35 years in prison for a crime that he wasn't linked to at all. He is now trying to adapt to the world and create a home for himself. Those who wish to help him do so can check out his Amazon wishlist and help him create a space of his own.

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