Bennie Starks, now 52-years-old, spent twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Starks was a third of the way through his sixty-year sentence, when DNA testing excluded him as the perpetrator of the crime.
In 1986 in Waukegan, Illinois, Starks was convicted of raping and assaulting a 69-year-old woman. Starks’ jacket was found at the scene of the crime, but the defendant stated it had been stolen from him at a local bar the evening of the crime. That piece of evidence, plus bite marks on the victim, which a dentist stated matched Starks’ bite, and the victim’s identification of Starks as the perpetrator of the crimes, was enough to convince a jury that he was guilty of rape and battery.
In the early 2000’s, DNA testing from a vaginal swab and from the victim’s underwear, identified another man as the perpetrator of the crime. In light of the DNA evidence, the appeals court ordered a new trial for Starks in 2006, and he was released from prison at this time, though not exonerated of his crimes.
One would think with DNA evidence proving his innocence, all charges against Stark would immediately be dropped. However, this wasn’t the case, and It wasn’t until May 15, 2012, that Lake County prosecutors dismissed the rape charges against Bennie Starks. The prosecution, however, declined to drop the battery charges, even after the appeals court issued a ruling stating the DNA evidence not only undermined the rape conviction, but the battery conviction, as well. Until Starks was vindicated, he could not file for state compensation, have his record expunged or clear his name.
Finally, after multiple rounds of DNA testing and three separate appeals, Illinois State Attorney Mike Nerheim agreed to dismiss the remaining charges pending against Bennie Starks. After a twenty-five year fight to clear his name, Bennie Starks walked out of court a free man.