The convictions of two brothers in suburban Detroit have been vacated after a Michigan Innocence Clinic collaboration with the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s (DAG) Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) and the Cooley Law School Innocence Project.
George DeJesus and Melvin DeJesus were wrongfully convicted of murder and felony firearm possession 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 on March 22.
“The tireless work that went into reviewing the DeJesuses’ wrongful convictions cannot be understated,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel after the convictions were set aside. “The resources and attention to detail required to investigate a single defendant is a massive undertaking, let alone a case that involves two defendants. While their freedom will not undo the pain caused by these wrongful convictions, it is my sincere hope their long overdue exonerations provide some healing for the DeJesus brothers and their loved ones."
The wrongful convictions stemmed from the 1995 sexual assault and murder of a woman in her Pontiac, Michigan, home. Brandon Gohagen was linked to the crime scene through DNA and eventually confessed to sexually assaulting the victim. Gohagen claimed that Melvin DeJesus forced Gohagen to sexually assault the victim and then both DeJesus brothers killed her. 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.
In 2017, based on a cold DNA hit, Gohagen was convicted of raping and murdering another woman in Pontiac just one year before the 1995 murder. The two murders were strikingly similar. The Michigan Innocence Clinic also discovered that Gohagen had raped and assaulted numerous other women before the 1995 murder.
After DAG's CIU launched, the Michigan Innocence Clinic, representing Melvin, and the Cooley Innocence Project, representing George, asked the unit to conduct DNA testing and review both of the brothers’ claims of innocence. Following its own thorough investigation—which included speaking to a witness who said that Gohagen confessed to implicating the brothers in exchange for a deal, as well as locating witness statements made within weeks of the crime that corroborated the brothers’ alibis the night of the 1995 murder—the CIU moved to have George and Melvin’s convictions vacated and requested dismissal of all charges.
“We are thrilled to learn that our client, Melvin DeJesus, and his brother, George, will be fully exonerated for this murder, some 26 years after the true killer framed the brothers for this heinous crime,” said Dave Moran, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. “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. We will now focus on helping Melvin DeJesus adjust to his freedom and move on with his life.”
Michigan Law second-year students Liv Torres and Rachel Harrington, and third-year student Alexandra van Doren, are among the approximately 20 student-attorneys who worked on Melvin DeJesus’ case since the Innocence Clinic took it on in 2015.
“We could not be happier for Melvin and the entire DeJesus family. During our time on this case, we have been fortunate to get to know Melvin and his family, and we stand in awe of their strength, perseverance, and love for one another,” said Harrington, Torres, and van Doren. “We want to acknowledge that we would not be here without the hard work and dedication of Melvin’s previous student-attorneys, and we are grateful for all that they did to bring us to this moment. Because of their painstaking work, the truth has been clear to us since we took over this case: Melvin and George are innocent of this crime. We are elated that that truth is finally being recognized today.”
Established in 2009, the Michigan Innocence Clinic is the first exclusively non-DNA innocence clinic in the country. Since its inception, the Michigan Innocence Clinic has successfully won the release of 31 men and women who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes and served anywhere from a few months to 46 years in prison.