A Michigan man with every right to be bitter, angry and disenfranchised by a system that did him wrong gave all the glory to God this week when he was released from prison after having wrongfully spent three decades locked up for a murder he did not commit.
Gilbert Poole Jr., now 56, was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1988 stabbing death of a man named Robert Mejia in Pontiac, Michigan. The victim was stabbed in the face, neck and chest — but no murder weapon was connected to Poole.
The Detroit News reported the Poole was convicted in a trial where prosecutors used what is now widely considered junk science: Bite mark analysis from a dentist.
Poole’s then-girlfriend had told investigators that on the night of the slaying, he had argued with her, then left their home “to get money,” the News reported. She even claimed that he later came back and confessed to killing someone during a robbery.
Poole denied that, and in the absence of DNA testing at the time, police had a murder victim and the words of a witness who had apparently given them a suspect and a motive. Police apparently had also not pursued another man who was seen with Mejas on the night he was murdered, and who was known to carry a knife.
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In any event, along Poole’s three-decade journey to freedom, the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Innocence Project become his only ally 18 years ago. In 2016, the group had DNA evidence from the crime scene tested and compared with the man who had been handed a life sentence.
When the results came back, Poole was eliminated as having left any evidence at the scene when DNA found on Mejas’ body was determined to have come from an unknown source — but it was not from Poole. All the state had was a bite mark, which is a type of evidence forensics experts now rarely rely on.
Authorities say Gilbert Poole Jr. was wrongly convicted with faulty evidence, including bite marks.https://t.co/CoNCpWYgRo
— FOX 17 (@FOX17) May 26, 2021
DNA had eliminated him from having been at the scene, the state District Attorney’s office said.
“Someone else fought with Robert Mejia in the woods that early morning and someone else killed him,” Assistant Michigan Attorney General Robyn Frankel told a judge in Oakland County on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
On a recommendation from state Attorney General Dana Nessel, the judge officially exonerated Poole during Wednesday’s hearing. When the man spoke, he humbly thanked God and attributed his faith for getting him through the nightmare.
“I spent decades learning, reading, studying law, but none of that was working for me,” he told the court, according to AP.
“It wasn’t until I surrendered to a higher power and God stepped in and sent me a band of angels to look past the rules and regulations and looked to see who was standing in the furnace. I was standing in the furnace. I didn’t belong here.”
Poole will begin a new life with $1.6 million that’s being granted to him under the state’s wrongful conviction compensation program, the AP reported. That is $50,000 for every year he spent behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
It’s a small sum, when compared with the 32 years he spent confined to a prison. But Poole, who was first sent there at age 22, will be reentering society with a fresh start and a positive outlook.
He never gave up attempting to convince the state of his innocence, and after committing himself to God, his perseverance in faith led him down a path that saw his life restored and his name cleared.
Poole did not comment on how he will begin that new life. According to The Detroit News, every member of his family passed away at some point while he was wrongly imprisoned.
Poole’s lawyer, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, who was one of the “angels” he referred to in court, said he will be able to lean on the people from the Innocence Project as he begins his new journey as a free man.
“He has lost everything,” the attorney stated. “We are his family, and we are very proud to stand in that role today.”