DNA evidence exonerates Michigan man of fatal stabbing after serving more than 30 years in prison

Gilbert Poole Jr. was convicted of 1988 murder of Robert Mejia in Pontiac

Michigan man imprisoned for decades freed after DNA evidence ruled him out as killer

A man who was convicted of murder in 1989 in Oakland County was released Wednesday after DNA evidence exonerated him.

Gilbert Lee Poole Jr. was accused and convicted of killing Robert Mejia, who was found stabbed to death on June 7, 1988, in Pontiac.

Officials said after the Michigan Attorney General’s Office formed the Conviction Integrity Unit, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, attorney with the Western Michigan University Cooley Law Innocence Project, asked for Poole’s case to be re-investigated.

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Officials said following an investigation, Poole’s conviction was vacated and the Attorney General’s requested to have all charges dismissed.

“This case serves as an example of the important work being done by our Conviction Integrity Uniet,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel. “When we established this team in 2019, we made a commitment to ensuring those convicted of state crimes are in fact guilty while also providing justice to those wrongfully imprisoned. I appreciate the tireless work the unit put in alongside the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project to reach this outcome for Mr. Poole.”

In 2019, the AG’s Office received a grant from the Department of Justice to partner with the Cooley Innocence Project and conduct DNA testing and screen claims of innocence. The Cooley Innocence Project received a separate grant from the DOJ to review cases which unreliable forensics contributed to the conviction.

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Post-conviction DNA testing was conducted on crime scene evidence at the request of Poole’s attorney. Officials said blood collected from the scene did not match Poole, nor the victim. Instead, the DNA belonged to an unknown person.

“Things started turning around when I changed my outlook on everything. Everything started happening ... God looked out for me,” he said.

“Every day I had to wake up and make a choice whether I wanted to just give up or keep on,” he added. “Learning the law and learning how I got in here and learning how I needed to get out. Apparently, I made the right choices because it all came together today.”

Gilbert Poole walks out of prison in Jackson, Michigan, with Cooley Law School Innocence Project Attorneys Marla Mitchell-Cichon and David Williams. (Western Michigan University Cooley Law School)

Background on case

Meija was last seen at a Pontiac bar, according to the AG’s office. After his death, several people provided a description of man seen leaving with the victim.

However, no leads developed despite a composite sketch.

But in November 1988, Poole’s then-girlfriend implicated him, later leading to a his arrest and conviction. Experts testified that his teeth matched the bite mark on the victim.

Years after his conviction, it was determined that the “bite mark analysis has been wholly discredited and rejected by the scientific and legal communities as unreliable,” according to a press release.

“Mr. Poole’s conviction was based on unreliable evidence, including a bite mark comparison, which is not based on science,” Mitchell-Cichon said.

Poole had been serving a life sentence since June 22, 1989.

About the Author:

DeJanay Booth joined WDIV as a web producer in July 2020. She previously worked as a news reporter in New Mexico before moving back to Michigan.