Tuesday’s decision from an Illinois appeals court has made it difficult for Lake County prosecutors to retry Bennie Starks for a 1986 rape for which DNA testing has definitively excluded him. The court upheld the trial court ruling that prosecutors are forbidden from introducing at retrial earlier testimony of the victim, who is now deceased.
The ruling casts doubt on the prosecutions ability to proceed with the case, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Bennie Starks spent more than two decades in prison for a rape before appeals judges ordered a new trial based on semen evidence that did not match Starks. He has been free on bond since 2006.
This weeks’ ruling reaffirmed the decision from last year that the now deceased victim’s statements cannot be introduced at retrial. At the time of the original trial, DNA evidence did not exist and Starks’ defense attorney was not able to thoroughly question the victim on the stand.
The ruling is “a big step toward Bennie’s final vindication in this crime,” said Vanessa Potkin, an attorney who has represented Starks on behalf of the New York-based Innocence Project.