State gets federal funds for post-conviction DNA testing to free the innocent

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FILE - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office plans to use the funds to cover the cost of case reviews, locating evidence, DNA testing of evidence and hiring of additional staff and experts. 

FILE - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office plans to use the funds to cover the cost of case reviews, locating evidence, DNA testing of evidence and hiring of additional staff and experts. 

Photo provided/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Federal grant dollars are going toward post-conviction DNA testing in Michigan to help the state's Conviction Integrity Unit evaluate more than 1,700 post-conviction claims of innocence.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the United States Department of Justice, awarded $550,000 to her office through the Post Conviction Testing of DNA Evidence grant in a press release on Tuesday. The grant provides funding to states, local governments and public universities to help cover the costs associated with post-conviction case identification, case review, evidence location and DNA testing in violent felony cases where the results of such testing might show actual innocence.

Nessel's office will use the funds to cover the cost of case reviews, locating evidence, DNA testing of evidence and hiring of additional staff and experts, according to the release. She launched the department's Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019 and then partnered with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School to review forensic cases. 

The same year, the department received $734,930 from the Post Conviction Testing of DNA Evidence grant and WMU-Cooley Law School received $274,960 from the Upholding the Rule of Law grant. The $550,000 awarded Tuesday will allow the "successful partnership to continue," according to Nessel's office in the release.

FILE - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched the department's Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019, which has exonerated four people.

FILE - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched the department's Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019, which has exonerated four people.

Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP

"Law enforcement officers are duty-bound to pursue justice," Nessel said in the release. "That duty is especially important when it comes to correcting the failures of our criminal justice system. These grant dollars not only provide our office with the financial resources needed to review cases, but they will also ensure a rigorous evaluation that keeps dangerous offenders out of Michigan communities while providing justice to those wrongfully convicted."

In three years the work of the Conviction Integrity Unit has led to the exoneration of four people.

Most recently, the DeJesus brothers’ overturned convictions in March 2022 marked the third and fourth vacated sentences in Michigan since the launch of the unit. Previously, Gilbert Poole, Jr. and Corey McCall were exonerated.

"I just want to thank God first because, without him, nothing is possible," George DeJesus said in a statement from the Cooley Innocence Project when he was freed. "I am thankful that the truth is finally realized and hope that our family, as well as Margaret’s family, can finally heal and put all of this behind us. I realize that justice for my brother and I also means opening up old wounds for the victim’s family. My heart goes out to them, and I will be praying for them."

Under the state's Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, exonerated people are to receive $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned and money for other expenses, including attorney fees.

Exonerated prisoners are also eligible for up to a year of reentry housing and two years of other supportive services, including transportation and job assistance and training, according to Nessel's office.