Bennie Starks was released from prison after DNA evidence raised doubts whether he was guilty of rape. He went to court Friday morning hoping to put the case behind him, but a technicality prevented the judge from formally dropping the last remaining charge.
Starks left the courthouse in Waukegan disappointed, unable to completely clear his name after paperwork delayed his vindication.
"I wanted it to get dismissed today, but that didn't happen," Starks said.
More than 25 years after he was charged with assaulting and raping a 69-year-old Waukegan woman, a wrongly-convicted Starks will have to wait a little longer.
Friday morning, a judge ruled that the state's high court needs to officially send the case back to Lake County before she can dismiss it.
"It's of no consequence," said Starks' attorney Jed Stone. "That just means the final 'i' has to be dotted."
Starks was in prison from 1986 to 2006 for the attack. He was sentenced to 60 years, but an appellate court decision in 2006 threw out the convictions.
DNA testing eventually excluded Starks as the woman's attacker. The victim later died, and prosecutors dropped the rape charges against Starks, but they tried to keep the aggravated battery conviction.
"A dark cloud has shrouded this courthouse for over two decades," said Stone.
The now 52-year-old Starks has been free on bond pending retrial.
Last week, a court ruling left it up to Lake County to either fight against Starks' bid for a new trial or drop the charges. So, during his first week as state's attorney, Mike Nerheim contradicted his predecessor and did just that.
"It's my opinion it doesn't serve the interest of justice to pursue this matter any further," Nerheim said.
Despite Friday's outcome, Starks remains upbeat and just wants his good name back.
"I waited all this time, so a couple of more weeks is not gonna hurt," said Starks.
Starks' case is one of four in which Lake County prosecutors insisted on the suspect's guilt even after DNA evidence suggested that someone else was responsible for the crime.
Juan Rivera, who was convicted of a rape and murder which was later overturned, was also at the courthouse in support of Starks.
Starks' next court date is January 24.