Man Formally Cleared in 1986 Lake County Rape Case

Bennie Starks spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit

By Lauren Petty and Phil Rogers
|  Friday, Dec 7, 2012  |  Updated 10:19 PM CDT
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After spending 20 years in prison for a beating and rape he didn't commit, Bennie Starks was freed from jail.

After spending 20 years in prison for a beating and rape he didn't commit, Bennie Starks was freed from jail.

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After 20 Years in Jail, Man Has Charges Dropped

Bennie Starks was convicted in 1986 of assaulting a 68-year-old woman and went to jail for 20 years. DNA evidence later excluded him from the crime. Christian Farr reports.
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Friday was the day Bennie Starks had been waiting for.

After spending 20 years in prison for a beating and rape he didn't commit, Starks is now free of all charges.

Starks was convicted in 1986 of assaulting a 68-year-old woman and served 20 years of a 60-year sentence when DNA evidence was retrieved that excluded him from the crime. An appeals court ordered a new trial in 2006, and Starks was released on bond.

"When I first found out about DNA it was like in the early 90s, so I was like, I was upbeat that whole time. I knew at some time that I would definitely clear my name," he told reporters Friday at a press event with his legal team.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Waller had previously threatened to retry Starks on the charges but dismissed the sexual assault counts.

"He used junk science like bite mark evidence. They contorted the evidence any way they could to try desperately to cling to a conviction, even though it was wrong," said defense attorney Jed Stone of Waller.

The final hurdle, however, was a battery conviction. That stood until the Illinois Supreme Court ruled last week that prosecutors either had to retry Starks or drop it.

Lake County's newly elected prosecutor Mike Nerheim said he reviewed the case and would not retry Starks.

That means after a final hearing Friday morning, Starks was a free man.

"I just feel that my case is just a short story from a long past, and if there's no accountability at the top, then today it's me, next week it's somebody else and next month it's somebody else," said Starks.

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