Wrongly Convicted Man Finally Clears His Name

Final charges dropped against Bennie Starks after DNA proved his innocence

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bennie Starks, who was exonerated on rape charges after spending more than 20 years in prison, had the remaining charges against him dropped on Monday.

    It's been clear for several years that Bennie Starks was wrongly convicted and jailed for a rape he didn't commit, but the Lake County man wasn't fully able to clear his name until Monday.

    State's Attorney Mike Nerheim agreed to drop remaining battery charges against Starks.

    "I'm just overwhelmed with joy," Starks said Monday after hearing the good news. "It's finally over with."

    Starks was convicted on rape and battery charges in 1986 involving a 68-year-old victim.

    After 20 Years in Jail, Man Has Charges Dropped

    [CHI] 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.

    DNA samples taken from semen found on the victim's underwear in 2000, and successive tests proved that Starks wasn't the rapist. But prosecutors continued to fight the case, forcing Starks to file three separate appeals in the case.

    The rape charges were reversed in 2006, and Starks was released on bail pending a retrial on the rape charges. Those charges weren't officially dropped until May 2012, and the Illinois Supreme Court agreed last month that the DNA test results also nullify the battery charges.

    Starks case was championed by The Innocence Project, a public policy organization that works to exonerate wrongly-convicted individuals through DNA testing. Starks' case was the longest in the organization's history.

    "If my tiny law office has been involved in six DNA exonerations, there must be hundreds and hundreds of men and women in Illinois' prisons who are wrongfully convicted," Starks' attorney Jed Stone said.