Michigan man freed after wrongful conviction lost mom, dad and brother while in prison for 32 years

Posted at 5:32 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 18:21:24-04

(WXYZ) — For nearly 32 years, state prison was home for Gilbert Lee Poole, Jr., an innocent man. And even he'll tell you, he isn't the only one.

"It's really nice not to have handcuffs on, that's for sure ... it'll sink in ... hasn't sunk in yet," said Gilbert.


As an innocent man being locked up in prison for over three decades, Gilbert Poole lost more than time; his mom, dad and brother all died while he was behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

"Now I have to figure out how to navigate a world I haven't seen in 33 years," he said.

Here's a look at the creation dates for Conviction Integrity Units from the National Registry of Exonerations:

What family Gilbert still has met him at a nearby park moments after he was released from prison. Members of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School's Innocence Project were also there.

"I'm relying on the guardian angels around me to hold my hand, because I'm totally lost right now," said Gilbert. "Without them, I'd be sitting on the sidewalk in front of the prison. I wouldn't have a number to call."

Gilbert's case was the first exoneration worked on by Attorney General Dana Nessel's new Conviction Integrity Unit. Nessel said Gilbert's case in the 80s rested heavily on bite marks on the victim. That bite mark analysis has been discredited and rejected.

"On behalf of the entire system, as the chief law enforcement official, all I can say, I'm so sorry what's happened ... what matters now is where we go from here," said Nessel to Gilbert.

Greeting Gilbert as a free man today was Kenneth Nixon. He was exonerated earlier this year after serving 16 years for murders, he too, did not commit.

"People naturally assume that when you walk out of prison exonerated, that your record's clean and you're now a civilian. You're now a normal person. The reality is you're not, there's still a process you have to go through. I still had to navigate getting proper identification. I still had to navigate getting vital documents, you know, housing," said Kenneth.

Some of Kenneth's support came from someone unexpected, Corrections Officer Wendy Woods, who had seen another innocent man go free, and after looking into his case, she left her job so she could join his family in fighting for his freedom.

"With Ken, when I got that gut feeling, and I decided that I just wanted to give it up, give up that career, and I wanted to be able to help him and others like him," she said.

Kenneth added, "wrongful convictions have been going on for since the existence of our criminal justice system, we're still finding out that people who have been executed are innocent. All right, this isn't, this isn't new. It's just America's dirty little secret that wrongful convictions happen over here."

And today in Jackson, there's one less innocent man in prison. One who will now have to learn how to live as a free man.

"I've never seen a cell phone in my life until today. I still haven't touched one," said Gilbert.

He was greeted with cheers as a free man.

"They cheered because they knew I was going to come out here and take my experience in here, and take it out here and try to help make changes," said Gilbert.