LANSING, Mich. -- Two Michigan brothers who were wrongfully convicted in the murder of a family friend walked free Tuesday and were reunited with their family after 25 years behind bars.
George and Melvin DeJesus were convicted in the 1995 killing of Margaret Midkiff. Oakland County Circuit Judge Martha Anderson set aside their convictions early Tuesday.
“I wish to apologize for the actions taken by your fellow citizens against you," Anderson said. “Twenty-five years of your life has been taken from you that cannot be replaced.”
The brothers later embraced family members — and met some for the first time — at a restaurant in Lansing.
Asked what's next for the brothers, Melvin DeJesus said it would be a collective decision.
“I believe it’s going to be a family meeting, a get-together to see what’s next on our agenda as free men, because we was kids when we came in and now we’re men,” DeJesus said, gesturing to his daughter to join him and to his brother at the front of the room.
He credited his mother in particular for never letting them lose hope, saying he never doubted that one day they would be free.
Midkiff was sexually assaulted and slain in her home in Pontiac, Michigan, in July 1995. She was found bound with wire and with a pillow over her head.
A year later, DNA from the scene was matched to Brandon Gohagen. Assistant Attorney General Robyn Frankel said Tuesday that no DNA was ever discovered that connected the DeJesus brothers to the crime.
Gohagen testified at trial in 1997 that the brothers forced him to sexually assault Midkiff, and that they killed her. George and Melvin DeJesus were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while Gohagen was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
But Gohagen acted alone, Frankel said.
She said she believes Gohagen sexually assaulted at least 12 women in the 1990s, including Rosalia Brantley, a 22-year-old woman whose dead body was found rolled up in a curtain in a park in 1994. Gohagen was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2017.
The Attorney General's Conviction Integrity Unit, led by Frankel, found witnesses who corroborated the alibis that the brothers presented at trial and discovered that Gohagen had failed a pretrial polygraph test that was instrumental in the case.
In Oakland County Court on Tuesday morning, the DeJesus brothers expressed their sympathy for Midkiff’s family and said they hope their families can meet on good terms.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Nichols reported from Lansing.