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WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project celebrates 20 years of exonerations

WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project celebrates 20 years of exonerations
Published: May. 6, 2022 at 10:20 PM EDT|Updated: May. 7, 2022 at 12:17 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - The Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project Team has helped 10 people be released from prison.

Gilbert Poole was one of many at Friday’s gala to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the WMU-Cooley Law Innocence Project.

Poole was convicted of first-degree murder more than 30 years ago and was released in 2021, making him of on the Innocence Project’s most recent success stories.

Read: Wrongfully convicted man released after 32 years in prison

“It’s a whole new world for me,” Poole said. “32 years in there, this is all new.”

It’s so new that Poole has to have people show him how to live like a free man.

“I can’t really go anywhere and do anything I want to do because I haven’t done it before,” Poole said. “I have to be escorted. I got to be told how to do things. It’s a whole learning curve.”

Kenneth Wyniemko was convicted of rape in 1994 and was exonerated after nine years. He described what it was like being held captive knowing he was innocent.

“It was like I died and I was living in hell,” Wyniemko recalled.

The Cooley Law Innocence Project team delivered the news that a DNA test proved what he knew all along.

“They just got the hard copy of the DNA results -- ‘You’re going home tomorrow,’” Wyniemko recalled. “I put my head down and I remember I started crying. I got up all of the sudden and I went around and picked her up by her waist and I’m turning her around -- it’s a day I’ll never forget.”

As the Innocent Project’s first success story, Wyniemko is now the commissioner of the Cooley Law School Innocence Project and is working to help others.

“I want to start crying. That’s how good it makes me feel. I try to come to every exoneration when the guys walk out of prison -- when the men and women walk out of prison,” Wyniemko said. “It’s such a joyful experience and another answer to my prayers.”

The Innocence Project Network has been credited with the release of more than 375 prisoners by the use of DNA testing.

The most recent success was George DeJesus and Melvin DeJesus, who had their convictions vacated in March.

More Innocence Project successes:

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