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Michigan AG celebrates overturned wrongful convictions

Melvin DeJesus hugs his mother after he and his brother Melvin were released from prison.
Colin Jackson
Melvin DeJesus hugs his mother after he and his brother Melvin were released from prison.

Michigan’s attorney general marked the release of two wrongfully convicted brothers from prison Tuesday.

Melvin and George DeJesus spent nearly 25 years in prison for the gruesome 1995 murder of a Pontiac woman. No physical evidence tied them to the crime.

“I haven’t been outside and — for me it’s been 26 and a half years. So, walking out, just with the feeling of that vindication, it was great. Probably, this is the best day of my life,” George DeJesus said after arriving in Lansing to reunite with family.

His brother, Melvin, arrived slightly later.

“I can’t even describe how I’m feeling right now because it’s just happened so fast,” Melvin DeJesus said.

The Attorney General’s office said it was witness Brandon Gohagen who implicated the brothers in the crime. Gohagen, whose DNA was at the crime scene and was later convicted of a similar offense, secured a plea deal in exchange for naming the two.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said she hopes these exonerations can help prevent prosecutors from making similar mistakes in the future.

“When we have similar situations, we really have to be cautious, and we really have to be suspect and ensure that people aren’t going to prison on flimsy evidence like this,” Nessel said.

Nessel said paying attention to these mistakes can prevent other wrongful convictions.

“From a policy perspective, there’s just a lot that we’ve learned. First of all, one of the things I can say for sure is using jailhouse snitches is a recipe for disaster,” Nessel said.

The exonerations are the third and fourth times the Attorney General's Conviction Integrity Unit has gotten a conviction thrown out.

Special Agent Gentry Shelby, who works in the unit, said investigations can take months to get results.

“Because it’s only two of us, two agents that’s actually on the ground working, we only can do two, maybe three cases at a time," Shelby said. "We vet faster than we exonerate.”

He said cases need new evidence like DNA or cell phone data to move forward.

The unit said it's received over 1,600 requests for assistance. That can place agents at a disadvantage when trying to free innocent people like the DeJesus brothers from prison.

“This is a lot of work,” Shelby said. “I look forward to the day when we can have more agents, so that we can get more people out.”

Requests can come from a variety of sources, including defense attorneys, organizations like the Cooley Innocence Project and the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic, and inmates themselves.