Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019
LANSING - An Ionia County man who spent nearly three decades in prison before new science exonerated him will receive more than $1.3 million in compensation from the state. The compensation award was approved today by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel after her office conducted a comprehensive review and evaluation of the claim under the state’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA).
David Gavitt, 61, of Ionia, spent roughly 26 years in prison after a jury convicted him of three counts of felony murder and one count of arson. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1986.
In May 2011, the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic filed a motion for relief from judgment in Ionia County Circuit Court on behalf of Mr. Gavitt, contending that the arson investigation science the prosecution relied on at trial had been discredited in the years after Mr. Gavitt’s conviction. The Innocence Clinic presented evidence that the application of advanced scientific principles established there was no evidence of an incendiary fire. The Ionia County Prosecutor then conducted an independent investigation which confirmed this conclusion. The trial court subsequently granted relief, vacating Gavitt’s convictions and sentences, and ordered his release.
“No system is perfect and the government’s public recognition of the wrongs which occurred in this matter help foster a healing process and assures Michiganders that the government – regardless of fault – will take action to remedy any harm to its residents,” Nessel said. “Reentering society is profoundly difficult for the wrongfully convicted and we have an obligation to provide compensation to Mr. Gavitt for the harm he suffered.”
Under the Act, an exoneree is entitled to compensation if: 1) new evidence demonstrates that the exoneree did not perpetrate the crime and was not an accomplice or accessory; 2) the new evidence results in the reversal or vacation of the charges; and 3) the new evidence results in either the dismissal of all charges or a finding of not guilty on all charges on retrial.
The amount of WICA compensation is calculated based on $50,000 for each year the exoneree was imprisoned until the date he was released.