PONTIAC, Mich. – Two brothers who were wrongfully convicted of an Oakland County murder spoke Tuesday, shortly after being released from a quarter-century in prison.
George and Melvin DeJesus were exonerated Tuesday (March 22) after spending 25 years in prison for the July 11, 1995, murder of a woman in Pontiac. The woman was found nude in her basement with a pillowcase over her head and wires binding her neck, wrists and ankles, according to authorities.
“It was hard,” George DeJesus said. “You can lose faith that it’s not going to happen, but we always fought hard. Just when we’d feel that momentum going down, my mother made us promise that we would never give up, no matter what happens.”
“For me and my brother, that’s one of the things we always fought for,” Melvin DeJesus said. “We never lost any doubt that one day we would be free, so for (Michigan Attorney General) Dana Nessel and the team doing everything they did and getting us that freedom, it’s incredible.”
Nessel said the DeJesus brothers were wrongly convicted of murder and felony firearm based on testimony from the real killer, Brandon Gohagen.
Gohagen confessed to sexually assaulting the woman but received a plea deal in exchange for testifying against the DeJesus brothers. He claimed Melvin DeJesus forced him to sexually assault the woman before both brothers bound her and beat her to death, officials said.
The Dec. 30, 1997, conviction of the DeJesus brothers resulted in a life sentence without parole. But their convictions were vacated Tuesday after the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed the case.
“It’s surreal right now,” George DeJesus said. “I need some time to process it, but I can tell you walking out of that prison was extremely great. I haven’t been outside in -- for me it’s been 26 and a half years. So walking out, just with the feeling of vindication -- it was great. This is the best day of my life.”
“When I heard that, I wanted to get off my chair and jump,” Melvin DeJesus said. “I had to contain myself in front of the judge.”
The CIU conducted DNA testing, reviewed both brothers’ claims of innocence, spoke to witnesses and reviewed decades of documents. Witness statements made within weeks of the crime corroborated the brothers’ alibis, members of the unit said.
“I’m ecstatic,” Melvin DeJesus said. “I waited so long for this. You know the words that I heard the most? ‘Be patient.’ Finally, we’re free.
“When the judge told me I was free, I was real emotional. I tried to hold it back, but I couldn’t. It just started coming down. I was, like, ‘Man, come on, just be strong.’ Sure enough, I couldn’t do it. I was so happy and I can’t even describe how I’m feeling right now because it just happened so fast. Even all the years that we tried and tried, I just don’t know what to say now. I’m glad I’m here.”
When Nessel asked George DeJesus how long it had been since he last saw his brother, he estimated 24 years. He said he hadn’t even met some of the other family members who greeted him.
“There’s a lot of them that I haven’t met and I just met for the first time,” he said. “I was so happy to see them, and I can’t wait to sit down and talk to each and every one of them individually. That way I can meet the ones that I haven’t met yet and get to know them and talk to the ones I do know.”
His release didn’t feel real until he started putting on new clothes.
“When I actually walked out of the prison, I was not really believing it until -- I can say when I started putting on these clothes and I took off the blues,” George DeJesus said. “When I took off the blues and starting putting on these, every stitch of clothing I put on, my smile got bigger and bigger.
“When I put these clothes on, it was real for me.”
Their mother didn’t want to let her sons go.
“This is a blessing,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed. I have no words to say, but I don’t want to let him go. I’d be afraid that somebody will snatch him from me.”
“It was difficult, but we fought,” George DeJesus said. “We fought hard and finally came through. I appreciate everybody who had a hand in helping us get to this point. It’s like vindication. I’ve been saying the same thing over and over, and for everyone to finally realize what I was saying, it was just like a vindication -- it’s the best word I can put for it.”
Here’s the full video of the brothers speaking:
Here’s more from Nessel: