A man who spent nearly 32 years in a Michigan prison on a wrongful murder conviction has been cleared by DNA evidence, authorities said.
Gilbert Lee Poole Jr., 56, walked out of a prison in Jackson Wednesday after an Oakland County judge vacated his 1989 murder conviction based on DNA evidence that excluded him from the scene of the fatal stabbing, according to the Innocence Project at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School.
“I have to say that I didn’t understand what was happening back in 1988 when I came to court to be tried for a murder that I didn’t commit,” Poole told the judge Wednesday. “At 22 years old, and a thousand miles away from anyone I knew, I kicked and screamed and stomped my feet and said this is not right.”
Poole was sentenced to life in prison for the June 1988 fatal stabbing of Robert Mejia, whose body was found near a running path in Pontiac. No suspects were identified until months later when Poole’s then-girlfriend implicated him in the murder and later became the key witness for prosecutors.
A dentist then linked Poole during his trial to a bite mark found on Mejia’s body — a type of evidence that has since been widely debunked by scientific and legal organizations, according to Poole’s attorney and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“Mr. Poole’s conviction was based on unreliable evidence, including a bite mark comparison, which is not based on science,” attorney Marla Mitchell-Cichon of WMU’s Innocence Project said in a statement.
“I commend [Nessel] and her establishment of a conviction integrity unit that will investigate claims of innocence and uncover the truth.”
Several blood stains from the crime scene — as well one found on a stone embedded in Mejia’s body — did not match neither the victim nor Poole, but the evidence was never presented at trial by his legal counsel, Mitchell-Cichon said.
Nessel said in a statement she concurred with Poole’s attorney, saying bite mark analysis had been discredited and deemed unreliable in the years after her client’s conviction. Poole started serving his life sentence in June 1989.
The DNA found on Mejia’s body implicates an unknown person, Mitchell-Cichon and Nessel’s office said.
Poole, who was living in Pontiac at the time but is originally from North Carolina, thanked his supporters in court while telling Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot he spent his time behind bars studying law, but was finding no way out of his nightmare.
“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,” Poole said.
“I was standing in the furnace. I didn’t belong here. I have to thank each and every one of you, without you this wasn’t possible.”