25 years later, two brothers falsely convicted of murder are set free from prison.
On Tuesday, the triumphant sound of the DeJesus family could be heard in the courthouse hallway when Oakland County Circuit Judge Martha Anderson set George DeJesus, 44, and his brother Melvin DeJesus, 48, free after spending a quarter of a century behind bars.
“When I took off them blues and started putting on these, every stitch of clothing that I put on, my smile got bigger and bigger. That was about the moment — when I put these clothes on, it was real for me,” said George DeJesus, according to New York Times.
It’s been an arduous journey for the brothers whose claim of innocence had fallen on deaf ears for years. A jury convicted both men based on the testimony of the sole perpetrator of the brutal death of their neighbor Margaret Midkiff.
In 1995, police officers responded to Midkiff’s home in Pontiac, Michigan, where she was found nude in the basement with her wrist, neck, ankles bound and a pillowcase covering her head. Investigators identified Brandon Gohagen as a suspect in the homicide, which led to him testifying the brothers had pressurized him to rape the victim. Then, he told investigators the brothers had stomped Midkiff to death afterward.
However, the DeJesus brothers told investigators they were at a party during their neighbor’s slaying, with eyewitnesses corroborating their alibi. Regardless, both men were tried and convicted after prosecutors provided Gohagen with a plea for lesser charges in exchange for his testimony against the brothers. As a result, the DeJesus brothers were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Over time, with the persistence of the defendant’s mother, Elizabeth DeJesus, the Western Michigan University’s Cooley Innocence Project, and the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan, the case gained traction. As a result, the Michigan Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit took over the case review in 2020.
Soon, prosecutors in the integrity unit discovered Gohagen had been the sole perpetrator of the crime. The only DNA taken from biological materials at the scene belonged to Gohagen. There were no trace or biological evidence of either George or Melvin DeJesus at the scene. Prosecutors within the unit also discovered Gohagen had sexually assaulted and murdered another woman, Rosalia Bentley, in Pontiac 11 months before Midkiff’s demise. The crime’s modus operandi (MO) was strikingly similar. Bentley was also found nude, stabbed, and beaten to death. In addition, 12 other women had reported sexual assault and emotional abuse by Gohagen.
“I wish to apologize for the actions taken by your fellow citizens against you. Twenty-five years of your life has been taken from you that cannot be replaced,” said Anderson before vacating the brothers’ convictions, according to ABC News.
Gohagen was later convicted for Bentley’s murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The sentence was in addition to the 35–80 years the defendant was already serving for Midkiff’s murder.
The DeJesus brothers expressed their sympathy to Midkiff’s family. It was not clear the brothers’ future plans after their release in the midst of their family reunification efforts. However, under Michigan State law, exonerated individuals are compensated with $50,000 and other funds for every year they were wrongfully incarcerated.
Later, the brothers and family members headed to a restaurant in Lansing to continue the celebration.