A man who served nearly 21 years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he didn't commit has been exonerated after new DNA evidence proved his innocence — but officials say he may not be freed yet, because of charges that he destroyed a prison sink while in solitary confinement.
The charges against Angel Gonzalez, now 41, in a 1994 rape and kidnapping in north suburban Waukegan have been dismissed, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim announced Monday.
Gonzalez served nearly 21 years at the Dixon Correctional Center, after he was convicted and sentenced in 1994 to more than 50 years in prison.
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The Innocence Project, which worked to free him, says that Gonzalez, who spoke little English, falsely confessed in 1994 after being interrogated for several hours "under humiliating circumstances using deceptive interrogation practices." He had no prior criminal record, the group added.
Recent DNA testing proved his innocence, the group said.
"If words were enough I'd say I'm sorry and I am sorry," said Nerheim. ""we are sorry this has happened and it seems trivial when you’re talking about 21 years of a person’s life but it’s important to note that we did work alongside the Innocence Project."
Although both the rape and kidnapping charges were vacated Monday, Gonzalez was not released from prison because of an outstanding conviction on a charge of criminal damage to state property from 1996, according to the Department of Corrections.
That 3-year sentence stems from an incident where he allegedly destroyed a sink while in solitary confinement, officials said.
Officials expect a hearing on that charge soon.
"I just to say thank you to everybody for coming for brother," said Gonzalez's brother Saul Gonzalez. "I hope he can get out soon."
On July 11, 1994, prosecutors say a woman was abducted by two men from her apartment.
The Chicago Tribune reported the two men dragged the victim to a sedan and drove her to another location, where the woman says she was raped in some bushes by a man she said was Gonzalez. The woman ran and hid from her attackers, but the second man reportedly found her and raped her.
An officer testified in court that Gonzalez matched the description the woman gave them for one of her attackers, and the woman identified him, testifying in court that “he was wearing the same clothes, everything,” the Tribune reported.
Gonzalez reportedly confessed to participating in the assault. Despite the confession, he also gave officials an alibi, which the Innocence Project claims wasn’t fully investigated.
New DNA testing revealed that forensic material from the victim came from two men, but neither of the DNA profiles matched Gonzalez.
"This new evidence is substantial and casts serious doubt on the guilt of Angel Gonzalez," the Lake County State's Attorney's office said in a release.
Prosecutors say the news has been hard for the victim in the case, who is now in her 50s and whose attackers have not been caught.
Gonzalez, a Mexican national, was also in the process of obtaining a visa before he was arrested, but it wasn’t clear if he would be deported after his release, according to Innocence Project spokesman Paul Cates.