PONTIAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — Two brothers from Pontiac who spent 25 years behind bars for crimes they didn't commit filed a $125 million lawsuit.
The civil suit filed in federal court goes after Oakland County, as well as the retired detective and polygraph examiner on that case.
“As a father, that’s one of the greatest things and joys that you can have is to hold your daughter and be there while she’s being born,” said Melvin DeJesus, who was exonerated after 25 years.
DeJesus reflects on moments he never got to experience since he and his brother George served 25 years in prison for a crime they were found not to have committed, thanks to several legal groups.
“To hear that there was information that was hidden from us, it kind of validated what I knew in the first place. We didn’t have the information that we needed to win,” George DeJesus said.
At 18 and 23 years old, they were convicted in Oakland County in 1997 for the rape and murder of Margaret Midkiff in 1995. They say they were at a party at the time.
“No physical evidence, no confessions, no eyewitnesses,” is how attorney Wolf Mueller described the case.
Mueller filed a civil suit for $125 million against Oakland County, as well as retired Oakland County Sheriff’s Officer Sgt. William Harvey, and Chester Romatowski, a polygraph examiner who is accused of lying about the results of a polygraph test given to another defendant, Brandon Gohagen, who’s DNA was found at the crime scene.
“He admitted to raping Ms. Midkiff but said he was forced to do it by Melvin and George and that they’re the ones who murdered Ms. Midkiff,” Mueller said.
Mueller says Harvey offered Gohagen a deal.
“You plead to the rape, and we’ll give you a second-degree murder conviction instead of first-degree murder,” Mueller said.
The lighter conviction gave Gohegan the possibility of getting out of prison. He just needed to pass a polygraph test.
Romatowski, the polygraph examiner, is accused of falsifying the result. And the polygraph wasn’t presented at trial.
“Twenty-five years later, we got the actual polygraph charts,” Mueller said.
7 Action News left a voicemail message for Romatowski, who Mueller says is retired and in Florida. We could not find a number for Harvey.
It’s not the first case Harvey has been sued for allegedly railroading defendants. Juwan Deering was recently exonerated after 15 years.
“Conservatively, 3 to 5 percent of people in prison are wrongfully convicted,” Mueller said.
While $125 million won’t give them back lost years, Mueller says the goal is to punish and send a message, so others don’t abuse their power.
“I’m still curious to know what happened. Why? Why didn’t happen?” George DeJesus asked.
“We spent 25 years for somebody saying, ‘Them guys was with me?' That’s horrible,” Melvin DeJesus said.
The brothers received compensation from the state for wrongful conviction — $50,000 per year that they were in prison.
The Oakland County Sheriff's Office issued the following statement about the lawsuit:
Obviously this case goes back more than 25 years, preceding Sheriff Bouchard’s tenure. More facts will need to be gathered because none of the people involved still work here.
Gohagen, who is in prison for the Midkiff murder, was also convicted in 2017 for a cold case murder from 1994. He is serving life in prison without parole.