+
upworthy
Pop Culture

Wrongfully convicted man proves his innocence using an episode of 'MythBusters'

John Galvan was only 18 years old when he was arrested for a crime he did not commit.

mythbusters

Justice (and scientific education) served.

The Discovery show “MythBusters” delighted investigative junkies and movie buffs alike in the years following its launch in the early 2000s. The stunt-filled show featured special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman testing out the validity of everything from duct tape islands to mechanical sharks using scientific methods.

Back in 2007, 39-year-old John Galvan was 21 years into serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, when he caught a rerun of “MythBusters” on the prison television.

The episode, “Hollywood on Trial,” which originally aired in 2005, shows Hyneman and Savage failing to light a pool of gasoline using a cigarette—a classic action film trope.


Not even a rolling fully lit cigarette could ignite a flame. In other words, the myth was officially “busted.

This bit of information immediately caught Galvan’s attention, for it would be the very catalyst needed to prove his innocence and reclaim his freedom.

In September 1986, a fire broke out in a two-flat apartment building in southwest Chicago, killing two brothers—one of whom was suspected to be involved in a gang called the Latin Kings. Their siblings managed to escape and told police that a female neighbor had threatened to burn the building down as retaliation for her own brother’s death, an act supposedly committed by the gang.

The woman denied involvement and instead pointed the blame at Galvan, along with other neighbors interviewed by the police. Although Galvan had been asleep at his grandmother’s the night of the fire, he had no other evidence proving his innocence, and was arrested. He was only 18 years old.

Using violence, torture and deception tactics (which remain legal in 46 states), Detective Victor Switski eventually coerced Galvan into signing a confession after threatening that he could face the death penalty and end up “laying next to” his late father.

mythbusters sets man free

A photo of Galvan as a child.

Instagram


Galvan’s signed statement claimed he had started the fire by throwing a bottle filled with gasoline at the building and then tossing a cigarette into the pool of gasoline on the porch to ignite it. Which, again, is scientificallyimpossible.

Galvan immediately called his lawyer Tara Thompson, who had serendipitously been watching the same episode. Thompson and Galvan had been working on his third post-conviction petition, and both were thrilled to have stumbled upon some compelling evidence in the most unlikely of places.

“I remember I was excited, I was extremely happy because that just added to the other things that were coming together at that time. I felt like finally this is starting to all come out,” Galvan recalled.

Thompson added, “It was honestly shocking to me … I feel like all of us have seen movies — like Payback is a famous one — where they light the gasoline in the street with a cigarette and a car explodes, and I really had never given much thought to whether or not that might be real.”

“When I watched this MythBusters episode, as a lawyer, it made me realize that there are things you have to look deeper into — you can’t assume that you understand the science until you’ve looked into it,” she added.
innocence project

Tara Thompson (left) and John Galvan (right).

Instagram

The show’s findings were echoed by experiments conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It made more than 2,000 attempts to ignite gasoline with a cigarette under various conditions and every attempt failed.

It wouldn’t be until 2017 that Galvan got his evidentiary hearing on his post-conviction claims. Thompson not only presented their findings, but also seven witnesses—including those who attested to also being tortured by the same detective who had interrogated Galvan, and an arson expert who testified that what Galvan falsely confessed to was scientifically impossible.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, prosecutors still denied that the science was correct.

“Even then, they really did not want to accept that this was not possible,” Ms. Thompson recalled. “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.”

Galvan would have to wait until 2022—and after several appeals—to gain his freedom. He was exonerated largely based on the fact that he was abused into involuntarily signing his confession, rather than any changes to the science of the case.

Rebecca Brown, director of policy for the Innocence Project, says it speaks to “the critical importance of establishing mechanisms for people to get back into court when science changes or evolves, or when experts repudiate past testimony.”

“A ‘change-in-science’ statute here would have allowed for a presentation reflecting those changes in arson science and could have likely expedited Mr. Galvan’s exoneration,” she explained.

good news

He'll never get those 35 years back, but he's going to make the best of the time he has left.

Instagram

Adjusting to a new life outside the prison walls after 35 years has been no easy task, but Galvan is nonetheless taking his newfound freedom in stride. He’s most looking forward to having his own space to call home and getting back to drawing and painting. If you would like to support Galvan, check out his Amazon wish list.



We all know that Americans pay more for healthcare than every other country in the world. But how much more?

According an American expatriate who shared the story of his ER visit in a Taiwanese hospital, Americans are being taken to the cleaners when we go to the doctor. We live in a country that claims to be the greatest in the world, but where an emergency trip to the hospital can easily bankrupt someone.

Kevin Bozeat had that fact in mind when he fell ill while living in Taiwan and needed to go to the hospital. He didn't have insurance and he had no idea how much it was going to cost him. He shared the experience in a now-viral Facebook post he called "The Horrors of Socialized Medicine: A first hand experience."

Keep ReadingShow less
With permission from Sarah Cooper.

Men and the feels.


Note: This an excerpt is from Sarah Cooper's book, How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings.

In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they're not perceived as pushy, aggressive, or competent.

One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the fragile male ego.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Man lists 8 not fun, but very important things you need to start doing as an adult.

"Welcome to being an adult. Maybe you weren't told this by your parents, but this is through my trial and error."

@johnfluenzer/TikTok

8 things you should be doing as an adult. Spoiler alert—none of them are fun.

Who among us hasn’t come into full adulthood wishing they had known certain things that could have made life so so so much easier in the long run? Choices that, if made, ultimately would have been much better for our well-being…not to mention our wallets.

But then again that is all part of growing older and (hopefully) wiser. However there is something to be said about getting advice from those who’ve been there, rather than learning the hard way every single time.

Thankfully, a man who goes by @johnfluenzer on TikTok has a great list of things young people should start doing once they become adults. Are any of his suggestions fun, cool or trendy? Not at all. But they are most definitely accurate. Just ask any 30+-year-olds who wished they had done at least four of these things.
Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

Her boyfriend asked her to draw a comic about their relationship. Hilarity ensued.

The series combines humor and playful drawings with spot-on depictions of the intense familiarity that long-standing coupledom often brings.

All images by Catana Chetwynd


"It was all his idea."

An offhand suggestion from her boyfriend of two years coupled with her own lifelong love of comic strips like "Calvin and Hobbes" and "Get Fuzzy" gave 22-year-old Catana Chetwynd the push she needed to start drawing an illustrated series about long-term relationships.

Specifically, her own relationship.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

My wife surprised her coworkers when she came out as trans. Then they surprised her.

She was ready for one reaction but was greeted with a beautiful response.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

Zoe comes out to her coworkers.


Society, pay attention. This is important.

My wife, Zoe, is transgender. She came out to us — the kids and me — last summer and then slowly spread her beautiful feminine wings with extended family, friends, and neighbors.

A little coming out here, a little coming out there — you know how it is.

Keep ReadingShow less


It started with a simple, sincere question from a mother of an 11-year-old boy.

An anonymous mother posted a question to Quora, a website where people can ask questions and other people can answer them. This mother wrote:

How do I tell my wonderful 11 year old son, (in a way that won't tear him down), that the way he has started talking to me (disrespectfully) makes me not want to be around him (I've already told him the bad attitude is unacceptable)?

It's a familiar scenario for those of us who have raised kids into the teen years. Our sweet, snuggly little kids turn into moody middle schoolers seemingly overnight, and sometimes we're left reeling trying to figure out how to handle their sensitive-yet-insensitive selves.


Keep ReadingShow less