On July 11, 1995, a woman was found dead in her Pontiac, Michigan, basement. She was nude and had a pillowcase over her head; her neck, wrists, and ankles were all bound with wires.
DNA evidence linked a man named Brandon Gohagen to the crime, but he in turn accused Melvin DeJesus of forcing him to sexually assault the woman. Gohagen then claimed that Melvin and his brother George were the ones who then tied the victims’ ankles and wrists and beat her to death.
Gohagen was given a deal and allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual assault in exchange for testifying against the DeJesus brothers, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office explained in a press release on Tuesday.
George and Melvin denied committing the crime and said they were at a party with Gohagen the night of the crime but went their separate ways afterward. Both of the brothers’ alibi witnesses, however, were scrutinized for being inconsistent with the date of the party, shifting between saying the party was on Friday or Saturday night.
George and Melvin were convicted of murder and felony firearm in 1997 and sentenced to life without parole.
But in 2017, Gohagen was convicted in a 1994 sexual assault and murder of another woman in Michigan. In that crime, he was accused of acting alone.
In 2019, Michigan established its Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to look into questionable convictions. Shortly after its launch, the Cooley Innocence Project and Michigan Innocence Clinic asked the CIU to look into the DeJesus case. The CIU “discovered 12 other women who were emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by Gohagen,” the attorney general’s office explained. “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.”
Michigan’s CIU also spoke to witnesses in the case and located past witness statements that had been made within weeks of the crime, corroborating the brothers’ alibis. The office also looked through decades of documents and moved to have the brothers’ convictions vacated, requesting a dismissal of the charges against them.
Melvin and George spent nearly 25 years in jail for the crime, housed in separate correctional facilities. After being released, the brothers were reunited, CNN reported.
“Walking out, just with the feeling of vindication, it was great,” George told reporters, according to WDIV. “This is the best day of my life.”
Melvin echoed his sentiments, saying he was “ecstatic” and that he had “waited so long for this.”
“I appreciate the tireless work the unit put in to secure these exonerations for the DeJesus brothers,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in her office’s press release. “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.”
The brothers are eligible for up to one year of re-entry housing and two years of additional support services, including job placement assistance and job training, transportation services, work clothing and tools, and help with vital documents, the attorney general’s office said.
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