JACKSON, Mich. (WLNS) — A man who spent 32 years in a Jackson prison is free today, after years of claiming he was wrongfully convicted.

Gilbert Poole Jr. was convicted of stabbing and killing Robert Mejia in 1988, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. He was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole in 1989.

Gilbert Poole Jr., right, accompanied by attorney Marla Mitchell-Cichon, leaves prison in Jackson, Mich., Wednesday, May 26, 2021, after being exonerated of first-degree murder in Oakland County. Poole spent 32 years in prison. Authorities said he was wrongly convicted with unreliable evidence. (WMU-Cooley Law School via AP)

Through a joint investigation between the attorney general’s office and the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project, DNA evidence proved Poole was innocent. Following a call for the dismissal of charges, Poole’s conviction was set aside by an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Wednesday morning.

Gilbert Poole Jr. meets with Michigan Attorney Dana Nessel following his exoneration.

According to Nessel, Mejia was last seen at a Pontiac bar on June 7 in 1988, and several people provided a description of a man seen leaving the bar. He was later found dead in a field after being stabbed to death.

That November, Golbert 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.   

The attorney general says in the years following Poole’s conviction, DNA testing not available at the time of the original investigation showed the DNA from the bite mark did not match Poole’s DNA nor Majia’s DNA. Rather, the DNA belongs to an unknown person.

Following the news of the DNA testing, the Michigan Department of Attorney General’s Conviction Integrity Unit launched its own investigation into the case, leading to its determination that Poole was innocent.

“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.” 

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. The Attorney General’s office says these grant partnerships were instrumental in Poole’s investigation and release. 

“Mr. Poole’s conviction was based on unreliable evidence, including bite mark comparison which is not based in science,” said Mitchell-Cichon, Poole’s attorney. “I commend the Michigan Attorney General and her establishment of a conviction integrity unit that will investigate claims of innocence and uncover the truth.”