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Brothers Exonerated For Brutal 1995 Murder After Trial's Star Witness Confesses
Brandon Gohagen, who testified that George and Melvin DeJesus forced him to help them kill, admitted to implicating them in order to get a better deal.
Two brothers have been exonerated for a violent 1995 murder after new evidence linked the crime to a serial rapist and killer.
George and Melvin DeJesus, ages 44 and 48, were charged with the July 11, 1995 rape and murder of an unnamed woman in her Pontiac, Michigan, home, according to a news release from Michigan's Department of the Attorney General. The brothers’ 1997 convictions were heavily influenced by the testimony of a third man, Brandon Gohagen, whose DNA was found at the crime scene. Gohagen claimed that the DeJesus brothers forced him to rape and kill the victim.
After 25 years in prison, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Martha D. Anderson vacated the men’s sentences on Tuesday.
“I just want to thank God first because, without him, nothing is possible,” said George in a statement from the Cooley Innocence Project. “I am thankful that the truth is finally realized and hope that our family, as well as Margaret’s family, can finally heal and put all of this behind us. I realize that justice for my brother and I also means opening up old wounds for the victim’s family. My heart goes out to them, and I will be praying for them.”
According to CNN, the victim was Margaret Midkiff.
Her naked body was discovered in her basement, according to the statement. She had a pillowcase over her head with wires binding her neck, wrists, and ankles.
During the trial, the DeJesus brothers provided alibis, claiming they were at a party with Gohagen on the night of the murder, before the three of them went their separate ways. However, there were inconsistencies regarding whether the party happened on the night of the murder or the night before.
Gohagen “eventually confessed” to raping Midkiff when DNA connected him to the scene, telling authorities that Melvin forced him to sexually assault the victim. Gohagen said the brothers then bound the woman before beating her to death.
For his role, Gohagen pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of second-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual assault in exchange for his testimony against the brothers.
Gohagen’s credibility was scrutinized in 2017 when he was convicted of a separate rape and murder from 1994. According to the Detroit Free Press, Gohagen was the only person responsible for the death of Rosalia Brantley, whose stabbed and beaten body was found wrapped in a curtain in Pontiac Park.
In 2019, the Cooley Innocence Project (who represented George DeJesus) and the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic (who represented Melvin DeJesus) reached out to the newly created Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) within the state attorney general's office. The CIU reviewed original witness statements from the DeJesus brothers’ case and determined their alibis did, in fact, hold water.
The report found Gohagen later “confessed to implicating the brothers in exchange for a deal,” according to the news release. The CIU’s investigation also revealed Gohagen inflicted emotional, physical, and sexual abuse against 12 other women.
On Tuesday, the brothers were reunited for the first time since they were wrongfully convicted, as they’d been housed in different Michigan prisons, according to CNN.
“I appreciate the tireless work the unit put in to secure these exonerations for the DeJesus brothers,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “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.”
“We are thrilled to learn that our client, Melvin DeJesus, and his brother, George, will be fully exonerated, some 26 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 the same conclusion that we did: the brothers are completely innocent.”
The Michigan Department of Corrections offers supportive services for up to one year for eligible exonerated prisoners, according to the attorney general's office. Those services include reentry housing, job training, transportation services, and other vital assistance programs to help the wrongfully convicted adjust to life outside of prison.
The DeJesus brothers’ overturned convictions mark the third and fourth vacated sentences in Michigan since the launch of the CIU.