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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Gilbert Poole a free man after 32 years wrongfully imprisoned

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Tracy Samilton
/
Michigan Radio

Gilbert Poole was in his early 20s when he was wrongly convicted of murder, based on misleading and faulty evidence, and defense counsel mistakes.

The trial relied on testimony from a key witness who could not recall details about when the crime occured, as well as bite mark analysis from a dentist associated with other wrongful convictions. Such bite mark analysis is now considered unscientific.

Several blood stains were collected from the crime scene, and blood on a stone found embedded in the victim's body matched neither the victim, nor Poole.   

It took 32 years to free him, including 18 years of work on his case by the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project.

A score of current and former interns who worked on the case over the years gathered at a Jackson County park on Wednesday to greet the 56-year-old Poole with cheers, hugs, some tears, and promises of help re-entering life on the outside.

Poole's case is the first exoneration announced by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's Conviction Integrity Unit.

Nessel was among those gathered to congratulate Poole.

"On behalf of the entire system as the chief law enforcement official in the state, all I can say is, I'm so sorry for what's happened to you," she said, "but I'm glad that at least after all of these years, justice delayed was not justice denied."

Poole was also greeted by Kenneth Nixon, a man who spent 15 years in prison for murders he did not commit. He was recently exonerated by Wayne County's Conviction Integrity Unit, also after many years of work by the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project.

"It's kind of overwhelming right now," Poole said to Nixon.

"Just don't panic.  Don't panic," Nixon replied.

"I don't quite know where I'm going to turn from here, but I'm sure the path is going to be towards helping some other (innocent) people get out too," Poole said.

Poole said every morning of the 32 years he spent in prison, he had to make a choice, between giving up and accepting his fate, or going to work on the case to win his own freedom.

"It looks like I made the right choice," he said.

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