After 32 Years in Prison, Gilbert Lee Poole Jr Exonerated
(State of Michigan Attorney General’s Office, May 27, 2021)
The Oakland County conviction of Gilbert Lee Poole, Jr. has been vacated after collaboration between the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project (Cooley Innocence Project). Poole was wrongly convicted of murder in 1989. DNA evidence from the scene exonerates him after nearly 32 years in prison.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot set aside the conviction Wednesday morning during a hearing held via Zoom.
After the Department of Attorney General formed the CIU, Poole’s Cooley Innocence Project attorney Marla Mitchell-Cichon asked the unit to review Poole’s case. Following its own investigation, the CIU, led by Assistant Attorney General Robyn Frankel, moved to have Poole’s conviction vacated and requested dismissal of all charges.
“This case serves as an example of the important work being done by our Conviction Integrity Unit,” Nessel said. “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.”
This outcome wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of law enforcement on all levels, including the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department and Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.
The Department appreciates their assistance throughout the review process.
On June 7, 1988, Robert Mejia’s body was found in Pontiac after being stabbed to death. He was last seen at a Pontiac bar and several people provided a description of a man seen leaving the bar with Mejia.
Despite composite drawings running in the Oakland Press, no leads developed.
That November, Poole’s then-girlfriend implicated him in the murder, thus leading to his arrest and ultimate conviction. Additionally, an expert testified that Poole’s teeth matched the bite mark found on the victim’s body.
In the years following Poole’s conviction, bite mark analysis has been wholly discredited and rejected by the scientific and legal communities as unreliable.
Similarly, in the decades since Poole’s conviction, there have been significant advancements in DNA testing. At the request of Poole’s counsel, post-conviction DNA testing was conducted on crime scene evidence including blood stains on and around the victim. The DNA did not match Poole’s DNA nor the victim’s DNA. Rather, the DNA belongs to an unknown person. The resulting DNA exclusion led the Attorney General’s CIU to conduct a full investigation. After extensive review of the case, the CIU determined Poole’s innocence.
“Mr. Poole’s conviction was based on unreliable evidence, including bite mark comparison which is not based in science,” Mitchell-Cichon said. “I commend the Michigan Attorney General and her establishment of a conviction integrity unit that will investigate claims of innocence and uncover the truth.”
Poole has been serving a life sentence since June 22, 1989. He is in the process of being released from the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson.
In 2019, the Department of the Michigan Attorney General received a grant from the Department of Justice to partner with the Cooley Innocence Project in order to screen claims of innocence and conduct DNA testing. That same year, the Cooley Innocence Project received a separate grant from the Department of Justice to partner with the Department of the Michigan Attorney General in reviewing cases in which unreliable forensics played a role in the conviction. These grant partnerships were instrumental in Poole’s investigation and release.
Exonerated prisoners are eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other supportive services offered by MDOC’s Michigan Offender Success Program. These include job placement assistance, job training, transportation assistance, work clothing or tools, vital documents assistance and more.
Exonerees are presented information on these services when they are released, and can access them within two years of their release.
To date, the CIU has received more than 1,300 requests for assistance.