WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) — Lake County prosecutors dismissed a 20-year-old rape case Tuesday.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports, Bennie Starks served 20 years in prison for the 1986 rape of a 69-year-old woman. He had been free on bond since 2006, while an appeal of his conviction was pending, after DNA evidence pointed to a different suspect.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports
The Lake County State’s Attorney’s office dropped the charges against Starks Tuesday in a hearing before Lake County Judge John Phillip.
The Innocence Project began fighting for Starks in 1996 and his remains one of the group’s oldest active cases. An appeals court ordered a new trial after DNA tests showed semen samples from the victim ruled out Starks as the rapist.
Starks’ accuser has since died, and prosecutors have now dropped rape charges against Starks.
“I was very, very happy. I mean, I can’t even explain to you how I was feeling because it was overwhelming,” Starks said Tuesday.
He said he’s not bitter and doesn’t have any ill will against anyone for the 20 years he spent in prison.
“Live today for what the day is,” Starks said, “And tomorrow – I’ll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.”
Lake County prosecutors had earlier told Starks’ attorneys they would not retry him, a reversal from their earlier position.
The appeals court had ruled that if they did go back to trial, prosecutors wouldn’t be allowed to use statements made by the victim, who is no longer alive.