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Ionia man to receive $1.3 million under wrongful conviction compensation law

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A 61-year-old Ionia man will receive 1.3 million dollars from the state. 

In 1986, David Gavitt was sentenced to life without parole for three counts of felony murder and one count of arson. But the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic stepped in around 2011. It argued that much of the arson investigation science used against Gavitt at his trial had since been discredited. A court agreed and ordered Gavitt’s release.

Since then, Gavitt applied for compensation under Michigan’s wrongful imprisonment compensation law. Under the law, exonerees who meet certain criteria are entitled to $50,000 for every year they spent in prison.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has granted Gavitt’s request after a review of his case.

“There was a lot of discussion about this, but the bottom line is that the science showed that Mr. Gavitt was innocent,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.

Rossman-McKinney says there are about 20 wrongful conviction claims currently pending. The fund currently has – before Gavitt’s claim – almost eight million dollars. The fund was recently almost empty before lawmakers stepped in and passed a spending bill.

In order to qualify for compensation, exonerees must meet certain criteria. They have to show that new evidence demonstrates he or she did not perpetrate the crime and was not an accomplice or accessory. That new evidence has to result in the reversal or vacation of the charges, and the new evidence has to result in either the dismissal of all charges or a finding of not guilty on all charges on retrial.

Rossman-McKinney said the criteria was met in this case, and that Gavitt deserves to be compensated for the 26 years he spent in prison.

“This is the state’s way of acknowledging that no system is perfect,” Rossman-McKinney said.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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