Bennie Starks was overjoyed, struggled to find words, and fought back tears yesterday, January 7, 2013, after newly elected Lake County (IL) State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim officially vacated his charge of aggravated battery. A rape charge against Starks had already been dropped in May. Starks spent 20 years in prison after being convicted of the charges, stemming from the 1986 assault and battery of a 68-year-old woman, until DNA testing and challenges to other evidence in the case prompted an overturning of his rape conviction.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune (here), Lauren Kaeseberg, an attorney who worked with Starks since 2004 for the Innocence Project said, “He’s finally cleared his name…He’s exonerated in every way…he can move forward…now he can explain the 25-year gap in his work history.”
As reported by the Innocence Project (here):
“Former Lake County prosecutors put up a 16 year legal fight to deny Mr. Starks his freedom, coming up with ever more outrageous arguments to explain the DNA results,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “By agreeing to dismiss the remaining charges against Bennie Starks, State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim has quickly and decisively signaled the beginning of a new era in Lake County where justice is valued over maintaining convictions.”
With Starks’s exoneration, the Innocence Project today reports (here) that since 1989 there have been 302 exonerated by DNA. The National Registry of Exonerations, which includes those exonerations prompted by DNA as well as by other evidence and official actions, today reports (here) 1,051 exonerations, also since 1989.
Read more on Starks’ long journey to exoneration—which included multiple DNA testings and appeals—from the Chicago Tribune (here), ABC News (here), the Innocence Project (here) and the National Registry of Exonerations (here).