Photo: Bennie Starks with Innocence Project Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin.
Days after Mike Nerheim was sworn in as Lake County State’s Attorney, he has agreed to vacate the remaining charges pending against Bennie Starks from a 1986 rape and battery, ending Starks’ 25 year fight to clear his name. Though DNA testing from as early as 2000 excluded Starks as the perpetrator, former Lake County prosecutors repeatedly refused to acknowledge the results, devising improbable theories of Starks’ guilt. Nerheim spent his first three days in office reviewing Starks’ case and immediately acknowledged the evidence, according to the
“I just don’t believe it’s in the interests of justice to pursue this any further,” Nerheim said. “That’s why we’re going to end it now.”
On May 15, 2012, prosecutors dismissed the rape charges but an appeals court had left standing a battery charge stemming from the same incident. Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to overturn a decision by the intermediate appeals court finding that the DNA evidence undermines the battery conviction as well. Starks full exoneration is expected to follow in the coming weeks.