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AG Nessel Announces Two Vacated Wrongful Convictions in Oakland County
March 22, 2022
LANSING - The Oakland County convictions of George DeJesus and Melvin DeJesus have been vacated after a collaboration between the Michigan Department of Attorney General's (DAG) Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, the Cooley Law School Innocence Project and the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic. The brothers were wrongfully convicted of murder and felony firearm in 1997. New evidence discovered during the CIU's investigation exonerates them after nearly 25 years in prison.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Martha D. Anderson set aside the convictions Tuesday morning during a hearing held via Zoom.
After DAG's CIU launched, the Cooley Innocence Project and Michigan Innocence Clinic asked the unit to conduct DNA testing and review both the brothers' claims of innocence. Following its own thorough investigation, the CIU moved to have George and Melvin's convictions vacated and requested dismissal of all charges.
The Oakland County Sheriff's Office and the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office collaborated with the CIU to provide essential information. They also assisted in the submission of evidence for DNA testing.
"I appreciate the tireless work the unit put in to secure these exonerations for the DeJesus brothers," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. "This day is another source of great pride for our Conviction Integrity Unit, which was established in 2019 to ensure those convicted of state crimes are in fact guilty. I look forward to our continued collaboration with the Cooley Innocence Project and University of Michigan Innocence Clinic in our collective pursuit of providing justice to those wrongfully imprisoned."
On July 11, 1995, a woman's body was found in her home in Pontiac, Michigan. She was found nude in her basement with a pillowcase over her head and wires binding her neck, wrists, and ankles.
Brandon Gohagen was linked to the crime scene through DNA and eventually confessed to sexually assaulting the victim. Gohagen claimed that Melvin forced Gohagen to sexually assault the victim and then both Melvin and George bound the victim and beat her to death.
Ultimately, Gohagen received a deal and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for his testimony against George and Melvin.
At trial, George and Melvin presented alibi defenses that they were all at a party on Saturday night, the night Gohagen said the crime occurred. George, Melvin, and Gohagen went their separate ways after the party. However, both alibi witnesses were scrutinized as they were inconsistent as to whether the party was on Friday or Saturday. George and Melvin were ultimately convicted by a jury in 1997 and sentenced to serve life without parole in the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) on Dec. 30, 1997.
In 2017, Gohagen was convicted of the 1994 sexual assault and murder of another woman in Oakland County. Gohagen acted alone in that crime. In addition to the 1995 and the 1994 cases, the CIU discovered 12 other women who were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by Gohagen. The CIU also found other evidence that impeached Gohagen's credibility, and the CIU spoke to a witness who said that Gohagen confessed to implicating the brothers in exchange for a deal.
Additionally, the CIU spoke to numerous witnesses and reviewed decades of documents. The CIU located witness statements made within weeks of the crime that corroborated the brothers' alibis the night of the 1995 murder.
"We are happy that George DeJesus can say he has been fully exonerated after nearly a 25-year struggle to prove his innocence," Tracey Brame, the director of the Cooley Innocence Project, said. "George has steadfastly maintained that he had nothing to do with this terrible crime. We are grateful to Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Conviction Integrity Unit team for their willingness to listen to the brothers and reinvestigate the case. Today, George and his brother, Melvin, have finally received justice."
"We are thrilled to learn that our client, Melvin DeJesus, and his brother, George, will be fully exonerated, some 27 years after the true killer framed the brothers for this heinous crime." Dave Moran, co-director of the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, said. "We thank the Attorney General's Conviction Integrity Unit for their thorough reinvestigation of this case, which led them to reach the same conclusion that we did: the brothers are completely innocent. And we thank the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office for agreeing to this result. We will now focus on helping Melvin DeJesus adjust to his freedom and move on with his life."
George is in the process of being released from the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, and Melvin is being released from Lakeland Correctional in Coldwater.
Exonerated prisoners are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other supportive services offered by the MDOC. These include job placement assistance, job training, transportation assistance, work clothing or tools, vital documents assistance and more.
Exonerees are presented information on these services when they are released and can access them within two years of their release.
In 2019, the Department received a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, US Department of Justice (DOJ) to partner with the Cooley Innocence Project to screen claims of innocence and conduct DNA testing. That same year, the Cooley Innocence Project received a separate grant from the Department of Justice to partner with the Department in reviewing cases in which unreliable forensics played a role in the conviction. These grant partnerships were instrumental in the DeJesus brothers' investigation and release.
To date, the CIU has received more than 1,600 requests for assistance. The CIU is comprised of Director and Assistant Attorney General Robyn Frankel, Assistant Attorney General Lori Montgomery, Special Agent Khary Mason, and Special Agent Gentry Shelby.