A man convicted of a Pontiac murder 26 years ago is hoping DNA blood tests ordered this week could lead to his release.
Gilbert Lee Poole Jr., 50, is serving a life sentence for the June 7, 1988, slaying of Robert Mejia, 35, of Pontiac. Attorneys for Poole, including the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Innocence Project, requested DNA testing of evidence being held in the case.
In May, the Michigan Supreme Court instructed the state Court of Appeals to consider the request, which it had earlier rejected. On Monday, the appeals court remanded the matter to Oakland Circuit Court to have the testing done.
“If after testing (Poole) is excluded, we will file a motion for a new trial,” project director Marla Mitchell-Cichon told The News in May. “If (evidence) points to another person, the court is to weigh the evidence against that person ... and we would still be filing for a new trial.”
Mejia died of multiple stab wounds in his face, neck and chest and had a bite mark on his arm. An autopsy determined he had died about two days before his body was found in a field.
No one was arrested in the killing until five months later, when Poole’s girlfriend told police that the night of the slaying she and Poole had argued and he had gone out “to get money.” She said he came home scratched and red-faced, as if he had been in a fight, and told her he had murdered a man during a robbery.
But Poole repeatedly denied killing anyone, even after his conviction, and said blood evidence indicates someone else is responsible.
In Poole’s first trial, the defense theorized that the real killer was another man who has been identified as being seen with Mejia the night of his death. That suspect, never charged in the death, knew Mejia and allegedly carried a knife with which he had threatened people with in the past. The suspect is in a Michigan prison for a 2002 conviction of failing to inform a sexual partner that he had AIDS. His maximum discharge date from prison is 2017.
Mitchell-Cichon said if there is a new trial, Poole’s attorneys would question inconsistent statements made by witnesses who claim they saw Poole and Mejia leave a bar together; the bite mark evidence left on Mejia's arm (“since proven to be unreliable”) and, perhaps most importantly, DNA evidence.
An Oakland Circuit Court jury heard that Mejia’s clothing had blood stains that matched Mejia’s blood type (type O) but no blood samples that matched Poole (type AB). A blood-stained stone found in Mejia’s clothing also was tested but the blood type (A) did not match Mejia or Poole.
Two Oakland circuit judges who had earlier rejected requests for additional DNA testing found that since blood types were never brought into evidence to convict Poole, they shouldn’t be considered in possibly exonerating him from culpability in the death. The appeals court subsequently agreed: “There was strong circumstantial evidence of (Poole’s) guilt, and ... the jury had been fully aware that a particular blood sample could not be linked to either (Poole) or (Mejia) and that (Poole’s) blood could in no way be connected to the crime,” the appeals court ruled.
But the state Supreme Court ruled it was an error for the appeals court to render an opinion based on “law of the case” and that a review should be done in light of the statute and prior findings of Circuit Court judges.
The Innocence Project became interested in aspects of Poole’s case over 12 years ago. After learning most items of evidence had been destroyed, members located remaining evidence at the Pontiac Police Department. Mitchell-Cichon's request for further DNA testing was denied in Oakland Circuit Court in 2012 and this past September by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 329 wrongfully accused prisoners mainly through DNA testing.