PONTIAC, Mich. – Two brothers who were wrongly convicted in an Oakland County murder case have been exonerated after spending the last 25 years in prison.
The case dates back to July 11, 1995, when a woman’s body was found inside her Pontiac home. She was nude in her basement with a pillowcase over her head and wires binding her neck, wrists and ankles, according to authorities.
DNA tests linked a man named Brandon Gohagen to the crime scene, and he eventually confessed to sexually assaulting the woman, police said. He claimed that Melvin DeJesus forced him to sexually assault the woman before Melvin and George DeJesus bound her and beat her to death, officials said.
Gohagen ultimately received a deal and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in exchange for his testimony against the brothers.
The DeJesus brothers said they were at a party on the night in question. Inconsistencies about whether the party had been on Friday or Saturday night led to scrutiny about their story, according to officials.
George and Melvin DeJesus were convicted of murder and felony firearm by a jury in 1997. On Dec. 30, 1997, they were sentenced to life without parole in the Michigan Department of Corrections.
The convictions of the DeJesus brothers were vacated Tuesday morning (March 22) during a Zoom hearing.
Officials with the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit conducted DNA testing and reviewed both brothers’ claims of innocence.
Members of the Conviction Integrity Unit spoke to witnesses and reviewed decades of documents, they said. Witness statements made within weeks of the crime corroborated the brothers’ alibis, according to officials.
After this investigation, officials moved to have the convictions vacated and requested charges be dismissed.
George and Melvin DeJesus are the third and fourth wrongful convictions overturned by the Conviction Integrity Unit, joining Gilbert Poole, Jr. and Corey McCall.
The Conviction Integrity Unit worked with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, the Cooley Law School Innocence Project and the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.
“I appreciate the tireless work the unit put in to secure these exonerations for the DeJesus brothers,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “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.”
George DeJesus is in the process of being released from the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, and Melvin DeJesus is being released from Lakeland Correctional in Coldwater.
“We are happy that George DeJesus can say he has been fully exonerated after nearly a 25-year struggle to prove his innocence,” said Tracey Brame, director of the Cooley Innocence Project. “George has steadfastly maintained that he had nothing to do with this terrible crime. We are grateful to Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Conviction Integrity Unit team for their willingness to listen to the brothers and reinvestigate the case. Today, George and his brother, Melvin, have finally received justice.”
“We are thrilled to learn that our client, Melvin DeJesus, and his brother, George, will be fully exonerated, some 27 years after the true killer framed the brothers for this heinous crime,” said Dave Moran, co-director of the University of 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, and we thank the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office for agreeing to this result. We will now focus on helping Melvin DeJesus adjust to his freedom and move on with his life.”
Exonerated prisoners are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other supportive services such as job placement assistance, job training, transportation assistance, work clothing or tools, vital documents assistance and more.
In 2017, Gohagen was convicted of the 1994 sexual assault and murder of another woman in Oakland County, authorities said. He acted alone in that case, according to officials.
The Conviction Integrity Unit discovered 12 other women who were emotionally, physically and sexually abused by Gohagen, officials said.
Members of the unit said they also found evidence that impeached Gohagen’s credibility and spoke to a witness who said that Gohagen confessed to implicating the brothers in exchange for a deal.
Hear from the brothers in the video below:
Here’s more from Nessel: