At a hearing Tuesday morning, Lake County prosecutors dismissed rape charges against an Illinois man who served 20 years for the 1986 crime. This is a reversal for the prosecutor’s office, which had threatened to retry Bennie Starks on the charges even though multiple rounds of DNA testing definitively excluded him as the perpetrator of the rape. The Innocence Project first obtained DNA test results suggesting Starks’ innocence in 2001.
After hearing the news, Starks shared a hug with Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin, reported the Chicago Tribune.
“This has been a great day,” Starks said.
As to his plans, he said, “Spend time with my grandkids and just…living.”
Starks was convicted of raping and assaulting a 68-year-old victim in 1986 and spent two decades in prison before an appeals court ordered a new trial on the rape charges after DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim excluded him. The appeals court didn’t reverse the related battery charges, claiming the charges weren’t properly brought before the court. Starks’ attorneys maintain that he is innocent of all the charges because they stem from an incident that was committed by a single perpetrator, which DNA testing confirms was not Starks. He brought a new appeal challenging the battery charges. Oral arguments were heard in the appeal on May 14.
Starks is one of the Innocence Project’s oldest active cases, having represented him since 1996. He has been free on bond since 2006.
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