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John Bradshaw - Not Guilty


John Bradshaw - Not Guilty
John Bradshaw - Not Guilty
TOPICS: Condemnation, Freedom

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. It's a great American tragedy, really. Maybe the greater part of the tragedy is that this story is not entirely unique, but this is also the story of redemption, vindication, and, ultimately, victory.

There are roughly 1.4 million people in prison in the United States of America. There are another 3/4 of a million in American jails. That's well over 2 million people incarcerated. One quarter of all the incarcerated people in the world are in the United States. Now, there's no question people want and deserve safe communities. Those who fall foul of the law should pay their debt to society. Who would argue that? But what about those who are wrongfully convicted? Those who are sentenced to prison when they should not have been? Unfortunately, it happens.

In the 1960s, professional boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was convicted twice of a triple murder and spent 19 years in prison. But he was innocent. Kevin Strickland was imprisoned in 1979 after being found guilty of a triple murder. He was exonerated and freed from prison...in 2021. He spent 42 years in prison for a crime the justice system says he did not commit. Now, that's not to say the justice system always gets it wrong. That's simply not the case. But it does happen. And that it happens is a tragedy.

Rodney Dunneback: In the beginning, I had no idea why Gil was in prison. You really don't ask people that, uh, while they're in prison. Sometimes they'll volunteer it. Uh, I had no idea why he was there or how long he was going to be in there. But as things unfolded, uh, I learned that he had, at 23 years of age, had, uh, been, uh, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

John Bradshaw: Gil is Gilbert Poole.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon: Mr. Poole was charged with murder in 1988. In June of 1988, a Oakland County employee was murdered, um, after he left a bar, and there were a handful of individuals in the bar that said he left with an unknown individual. They got descriptions from witnesses. They put composite drawings in the newspaper. They solicited information, interviewed witnesses, um, but, um, none of that investigation led to a suspect, um, and the case went cold basically in July or August. Um, so within a month or two of the murder, they had no further leads. Mr. Poole was living in Pontiac, Michigan, in June of 1988, and he left the state shortly thereafter. He moved to North Carolina with his then-girlfriend, Connie Cook, and it was Miss Cook who then in November of 1988 reached out to the North Carolina police and told them that her boyfriend had confessed a murder to her that occurred in Pontiac. So that's how, um, Mr. Poole became a suspect. Um, he was subsequently arrested, extradited to Michigan. The detectives in the case solicited the assistance of a forensic odontologist by the name of Dr. Allan Warnick, who took dental impressions of Mr. Poole. He compared those impressions to what appeared to be a bruise or a bite mark. Um, to this day, we don't know for sure if it was even a bite mark, um, but certainly a mark on the victim's arm. Dr. Warnick concluded that the mark on the victim's arm was made by Mr. Poole's teeth. So that was the second piece of evidence that was used against Mr. Poole at trial. And then finally, the girlfriend, obviously, came to trial, testified, um, about the so-called confession, and witnesses in the bar, who again had never, to, to this day, we have no reason to believe they've ever seen Mr. Poole in their lives, identified Mr. Poole in court as the individual who left the bar with the victim.

John Bradshaw: Gilbert, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Gilbert Poole: You're welcome. Thank ya. I'm glad to be here.

John Bradshaw: You were 22 years old. You're minding your own business, living in North Carolina. You'd been in Michigan. There's...a knock at the door of your life. You are suspected of the murder of a man you'd never met. What does that do to you?

Gilbert Poole: Yeah. It, it takes you aback. But, uh, at the time, I had faith in the judicial system and figured it's going to be all right because the truth will come out and I'll be, uh, released.

John Bradshaw: Yeah, I, I think it's pretty understandable you might have had faith in the judicial system, uh, which, thankfully, works a lot of the time. But here's one of those times it failed spectacularly. You, you weren't at the bar where the unfortunate man had been. You'd, you'd not met him. Um, the evidence didn't point to you.

Gilbert Poole: Right.

John Bradshaw: And what goes through your mind when you hear the judge say, "Guilty, and we're sentencing you to life without the possibility of parole"?

Gilbert Poole: You know, uh... it's like the world stopped turning at that point. Um... I, I didn't know what to do. Um, tears welled up inside me. Um, I did not have anybody in the courtroom, because there was no possibility I was going to be convicted. So I was standing alone, a long ways away from home. And, uh, I, I just couldn't believe it.

John Bradshaw: "There was no possibility I was going to be convicted". Well, Gilbert Poole couldn't have been more wrong. But he did have the right to appeal his conviction, and he did. So what happened when an innocent man appealed? And where was God in all of this? I'll tell you in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. Charged with a crime he didn't commit, Gilbert Poole was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We're going to learn that while he was in prison, Mr. Poole had a miraculous conversion experience, which ultimately helped change the course of his life. But, of course, this was not the end of the story. He still had the appeals process to work through.

Gilbert Poole: Well, the appeals process was, in my mind, a joke because every step of the way, uh, it, it failed. Uh, the attorney didn't file an appeal. His appeal that he was forced to file afterwards was lackluster at best. Um, the courts would not address my issues that I was presenting, specifically as I addressed them. They should be giving leeway because it's a prisoner making his own pleadings at this point. But, uh, it just seemed like it, all my points were ignored, and, uh, they were using circular logic. It, it was just absolutely frustrating, and I don't know how anybody can navigate that without an attorney.

John Bradshaw: Marla Mitchell-Cichon was the director of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Innocence Project. She spent 20 years working with Gilbert Poole on his case.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon: Mr. Poole wrote to us, um, in 2002, about a year after our clinic was started here at, uh, Cooley Law School, and our clinic was designed to do post-conviction work to assist prisoners who are claiming factual innocence. Um, and the tool that we used at that time to prove innocence was post-conviction DNA testing. I've screened probably thousands of cases myself to try to hone in on, do these individuals, um, meet our criteria? Because it's really more about meeting our criteria than it is, "Are they factually innocent"? Because we can't help everyone. We need to know, is there biological evidence, um, that was collected that potentially we could find and test? And then, more recently, were there forensic practices used in the case that we can challenge as unreliable? So, in Mr. Poole's case he had both. He had biological evidence that was collected at the time that, if tested, might identify, um, someone other than Mr. Poole, who had never been identified through any forensic practice, um, in terms of the biological evidence at the crime scene. Um, and then later the fact that his case involved a bite mark was very important. He would have been meeting our criteria, given that, um, in this particular case the victim was murdered with a small knife, there was a chance that the perpetrator would have left his DNA behind at the crime scene, and so we would have been, obviously, interested in finding that evidence and DNA testing it. There's usually not one cause for a wrongful conviction; there's usually multiple causes. And Mr. Poole's case had a number of factors showing up as we gathered case materials that suggested that this is a potentially innocent person.

John Bradshaw: Even though DNA evidence wasn't being used in trials in 1988, forensic evidence definitely was. At the crime scene, where a man lost his life, blood was discovered: blood from the victim and blood from someone else. In 1988 the Michigan State Police Crime Lab evaluated those blood samples and identified a foreign blood sample, that is, blood that didn't belong to the victim of the crime and that didn't belong to Gilbert Poole. That should settle it, right? Not right. That crucial evidence was not presented before the jury. And as problematic as that was, it got even worse for Gilbert Poole.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon: So we all know from eighth grade science, right, that science is you do an experiment, you get results, and you can replicate those results consistently. Bite mark comparison in the context that we're discussing has never been science. Unfortunately, um, bite mark impression comparison has been used, um, in probably thousands of cases, and it probably wasn't until the mid-2000s when the National Academy of Sciences clarified that this was not reliable science and should not be used for the purpose of identifying a particular person or linking a particular person to a crime scene, which is exactly what was done in Mr. Poole's case. He essentially told the jury, without a doubt, without a human doubt, really, those impressions were made by Mr. Poole. That type of testimony would not be permitted, um, by today's standards. And it was in Mr. Poole's case the only evidence that tied him to the crime scene. This case is a lot about the backstory, meaning the key timeframe and where the storyline began was in a bar on a Sunday night. Um, but what happened happened a few miles away from that, um, in a somewhat of an abandoned area, and no one witnessed this crime. So, the only individual and the only witness that linked Mr. Poole definitively to the crime scene was Allan Warnick. If you were a juror and you heard that some individuals are identifying the man sitting at the counsel table, an ex-girlfriend who's saying he admitted this to her, a dentist, someone who had a medical education, say that without a doubt it was Mr. Poole's teeth marks, most jurors would find that evidence very compelling. And, um, obviously it was very damaging to Mr. Poole.

John Bradshaw: So describe what it's like inside the mind of a young man, a young man who has decided, "This system has forsaken me, and I'll never get out". How hopeless does a man become?

Gilbert Poole: Well, it's beyond hopeless. I mean, I would wake up in the mornings, and before I found God, I would wake up in the mornings and have to decide whether or not I want to do this or not. Do I want to finish this day? Do I want to go out and shake the fence till they shoo me off of it? It was pretty desperate times, you know.

Rodney Dunneback: When you walk through the yards or, or anywhere out there, there was not a lot of smiles on the faces. It's kind of a, uh, prison atmosphere, shall I say? I volunteer for prison ministry because I realize the great need there is, uh, for prison ministry. Uh, there's tens of thousands of men right here in Michigan, and women, who would love to have someone come in and tell them about Jesus.

John Bradshaw: So, you, you were in prison for a crime you didn't commit, you knew you didn't commit, but then the light started to shine in. Tell me what happened that started to turn things around for you.

Gilbert Poole: I had to reevaluate how I was living my life, even inside prison, because, uh, that was not leading me anywhere. And at the same time I was being, um, asked by other prisoners to do Bible studies. But these people had been asking me to do Bible studies for 25-30 years, and I've always pushed them away. But they've always came back. For 30 years they've always came back. Well, when I decided to reevaluate how I was living my life in the prison, I said, "Well, maybe this is something I need to investigate". And I got to reading it and seeing the truth in it; things started changing. I gave up on my case, and I turned it over to God. I said, "I'm, I'm done. If You want me out, I'll be out. But You can use me in here". And I started doing His work, as best I could, in the prison.

John Bradshaw: And right about that same time, there were some legal scholars who got involved with your case, and the wheels really started to turn.

Gilbert Poole: Things did start to turn around. There was a new development, and, uh, DNA testing that allowed them to take a closer look at the DNA evidence that they had, and we came up with new evidence that, that excluded me from the crime. We had this, and we were going to file back in court and ask to have the case revisited, but we didn't know whether that was enough to overturn the conviction, that in itself, in isolation. But then something else happened. The state attorney general's office started a conviction integrity unit that covered my county. My lawyer submitted the application to them with the new evidence that we just got, and my case was the first case that they actually vetted, and they went through it for an entire year, and at the end of that year, they decided that I was wrongfully convicted.

Marla Mitchell-Cichon: When it came to the day to walk him out of prison, not only were we so ready and, and happy and thrilled, but it was a... oh! Sorry, I'm getting choked up now, but it was, it was a great, it was a great, great day. Um, you know, it's like, uh, it's so much hard work. There's so many letdowns. Um, he's such a good person. So the day that he walked out we had everything in place for him, and it was a beautiful day.

Rodney Dunneback: As I watched Gil walk across the grass, uh, towards the pavilion, it was a extremely emotional moment for me, and, uh, for a lot of people. There were a lot of tears flowing at that moment. I kind of stood back and let everybody else and the media go crazy. Uh, I was standing, uh, back four or five feet, and Gil finally laid eyes on me. And he says, "Rod"! And we embraced.

Gilbert Poole: I was walking on air, uh, didn't know what to do, wide eyed, if you can imagine, uh, going to the amusement park for the first time and just seeing all the wonders around you. I didn't know what to do. Didn't know how to use a cell phone, I'd never seen a cell phone before. I'm able to help others by staying involved in the system, staying involved with the attorneys, staying involved with the state of Michigan and their, uh, forensics committees, giving my testimony to them so they can help stop some of the wrongful convictions. Joined a band of other exonerees and the National Organization of Exonerees, we've, uh, taken up the task of helping others that are wrongfully convicted try to get out, and once they're out, helping them transition into society. There's endless work to be done. Bad things happen to good people. And it could be me; it could be you. It could be anybody walking down the street that fall a victim to somebody trying to solve a crime.

John Bradshaw: Are you angry about what's happened?

Gilbert Poole: No. It's, uh... I, I was mad at the courts, you know, when they wouldn't hear my appeals. I was mad at my attorneys when they wouldn't come see me or wouldn't present the issues that I wanted. But I've had a whole different attitude, that I don't want to be angry anymore. That's all, that's all behind me. I'm tired of being mad. Nobody likes to be mad. So, when I wake up in the morning, I try to find the good in the day and to find the best things I can do today for me and the people around me. But really, it's not about me; it's about the people around me and what I can leave behind.

John Bradshaw: Now, you could say that there are more people stuck in prison than we realize, and this affects you and everyone you know. We'll look at that in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: A man celebrates his birthday at a bar half an hour northwest of Detroit, Michigan. Forty-eight hours or so later, his lifeless body is found by people out jogging. Two days after Christmas, that's more than six months after the tragic murder, Gilbert Poole was arrested after his then-girlfriend went to police. After being extradited to Michigan, tried, and convicted of murder, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. What sealed his fate was expert testimony from a dentist, who claimed it was a virtual certainty that Mr. Poole left a bite mark of some kind on the victim's body. The science the dentist used is no longer admissible in a court of law. It's what you'd call "junk science". But it was enough to put Gilbert Poole away for what turned out to be more than half his life.

The Innocence Project at the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School took up Mr. Poole's case, and with DNA testing having become available, and with the state of Michigan having recently established a conviction integrity unit, which investigates claims of innocence, it was discovered that what Mr. Poole had maintained all along was true. Gilbert Poole had nothing whatsoever to do with that terrible crime committed in 1988. He spent 32 years in prison for nothing, while whoever committed the crime has never been brought to justice. So Gilbert Poole was exonerated. The state of Michigan admitted it had got it wrong. The justice system failed, spectacularly. But then it worked. And we can be glad that an innocent man went free. But what about guilty people going free? That's where you fit right into this picture.

The Bible tells us that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". That's you, me, your neighbors, all have sinned. The consequence of that? Well, the same book says that "the wages of sin is death". That's more than a life sentence; that's an eternal sentence. After the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, death came to the world as a consequence of their sin. Sin separates from God, and it brought death to the world. And there's no way back from that. Science cannot help you. Money cannot help you. Ingenuity can't come to your aid. Sin leads to spiritual death, eternal death, and everyone has sinned. We're all guilty. But there's hope in one place. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. The Bible says that Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world".

The propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, God pardons the guilty. God forgives sin. Sinners are nothing like the Gilbert Poole of this tragic tale. He was an innocent man. He did not commit the crime. He was released from prison. Sinners did commit the crime and are released from the prison house of sin. The apostles were released from prison in Acts 5. Peter was escorted from prison by an angel in Acts 12. The prison cell that Paul and Silas were detained in miraculously opened in Acts, chapter 16. God's telling you something. He's in the business of setting people free, liberating people from the prison of sin. Your guilt isn't the question. That's beyond question. But God forgives the guilty, declares them innocent, and frees everyone who believes, frees them from sin. That's God's will for you. You'd rather be free, wouldn't you?

In an earthly court we try the accused, sentence the guilty, and free the innocent. Before God, we're all guilty. And for those who place their faith and trust in Jesus and believe in His death, Jesus is the way out. He's the only way out of sin. And He offers you everlasting life. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". Gilbert Poole was released from prison because he was innocent. You are not. You're guilty, guilty of sin. But God says He will forgive us freely. No matter the life you've lived or are living, no matter the mistakes you've made, when Jesus comes into your life, God looks at you and says, "Not guilty".

Let me pray with you now:
Our Father in heaven, the reality is we have sinned. We have "come short of the glory of God". We chose to go astray. We chose to sin. You chose to allow Your Son Jesus to come to this world to bear our sin and assure our pardon and salvation.


Friend, as we pray, ask yourself this question: Are you free? If you're free, you will say, "Thank You, Jesus". If you're not, if you're stuck in sin, if you look at yourself and say, "Yes, I'm guilty," would you look to heaven now? Would you look beyond your present circumstances and this world into the world to come and say, "I want that, this everlasting life offered to me in Jesus"? Would you claim it now? Would you claim it? Let's pray that prayer:

Lord, we claim salvation through Jesus. We are not worthy. We are not deserving. But Jesus grants us His righteousness, and we accept it. We thank You that we may be free in Jesus. We claim it now, we believe it now, and we thank You for it right now. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.

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