Rape Conviction Dismissed for Bennie Starks After 20 Years in Prison
Lake County prosecutors have dismissed rape charges against an Illinois man who served 20 years for the 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.
Starks is one of the Innocence Project’s oldest active cases, having represented him since 1996. He has been free on bond since 2006. The change in heart from the Lake County’s State’s Attorney’s office comes in the wake of the resignation of Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Mermel, who stepped down in response to calls for his resignation by the Lake County Sheriff after an article exposing Mermel’s unwillingness to accept DNA science appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Additionally, an Illinois appeals court ruled in February that prosecutors were forbidden from using the earlier testimony of the victim, who is now deceased, in the retrial of Starks.
Unfortunately, Starks is still fighting a battery charge that we contend should have been thrown out with the rape charge. Oral arguments before an Illinois appeals court were held earlier this month and a decision is expected sometime later this year.