Angel Gonzalez, exonerated of 1994 rape, freed from prison

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Angel Gonzalez , who was exonerated after spending more than 20 years in prison for an abduction and rape, was freed from an Illinois prison. (WLS)

A suburban Chicago man was released from prison Tuesday night after serving nearly 21 years for a crime he did not commit.

Angel Gonzalez, 41, walked out of the Dixon Correctional Facility on Tuesday night. He headed to Waukegan late Tuesday to be reunited with family, but ABC7 caught up with him as he enjoyed a chicken sandwich - his first meal as a free man.

"It just hit me like a cold water in the face. It's so great to finally be here, free," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, flanked by his attorneys, was all smiles as he left the prison a day after a judge vacated his conviction and 55-year sentence. Gonzalez was exonerated by DNA evidence that showed he couldn't have been one of the two men who kidnapped and raped a woman in Waukegan in 1994.

"Deep in my heart I felt like one day - somehow, someway, I didn't know how - help was going to arrive. From where, I didn't know at the time. And it was just going to be cleared up," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who was 20 at the time of the crime, was identified by the victim and his car matched the description of the suspects' vehicle.

But his attorneys say Gonzalez had an alibi and no criminal history. And after a lengthy interrogation, he signed a confession written by Waukegan police in English, despite only speaking Spanish at the time.

It wasn't lawyers from the Innocence Project took up his case and a change in leadership in the Lake County state's attorney's office, that DNA testing was conducted.

Now, 20 years after entering prison, Gonzalez is free.

"I'm going home, I'm on my way. Tomorrow's a different day. I'm sure it's going to bring some great things," Gonzalez said.

Before his release, Gonzalez had to clear one more legal hurdle: a property damage conviction for breaking a sink while in prison. A judge vacated that conviction on Tuesday. Gonzalez said he holds no ill will and is just eager to reconnect with family.

Related Topics:
DNAwrongful convictionLake County
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