"Rebuilding the Lives of the Wrongfully Convicted"

Chicago Sun-Times: Convicted man presented with certificate of innocence

Updated: September 26, 2013 2:38AM

A certificate of innocence was approved for Bennie Starks of Chicago Wednesday in Lake County Circuit Court — putting an exclamation point on his decades-long fight to prove that he was not a violent rapist.

It took more than 26 years for Starks, 54, to clear his name from the brutal sexual assault for which he spent 20 years behind bars. Although DNA evidence cleared him of the 1985 attack in 2000, the last felony charge against Starks was dropped earlier this year.

 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25,Judge George Bridges, noting the lack of opposition from the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, finished the paperwork by ordering a certificate of of innocence for Starks.

Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim said the Starks case was the first contested case he reviewed upon taking office, and after studying the files decided his office would no longer contest dropping the charges against Starks.

Starks was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated battery involving a 69-year-old victim in 1986.

The alleged rape victim said she was grabbed by the neck, thrown to the ground, repeatedly punched in the face and sexually assaulted.

 

The victim was hospitalized for 11 days after the attack which occurred in Waukegan. She has since died.

He was 26 when he was sent to prison for 60 years.

Starks contacted the Innocence Project in 1997 to help clear his name.

Starks said earlier this year that faith was what kept him going while he sat in prison waiting to clear his name.

“I have said before that for two and a half decades a dark cloud shrouded this courthouse, wrongful convictions, junk science, DNA, coerced confessions. Today a ray of sunlight cracked through that cloud because of Mike Nerheim,” Stone said.

The rape victim said that a teenager had assaulted her. The DNA profile taken from her did not match Starks and has not been connected to any other suspect.