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Starks cleared, DA faces DNA case surge

Jan. 8, 2013 at 8:13 PM

WAUKEGAN, Ill., Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Bennie Starks has been cleared after wrongly spending 20 years in prison, and an Illinois prosecutor says he is looking for other cases of wrongful prosecution.

Starks, who was convicted of the 1989 rape and battery of a 69-year-old woman, won a new trial in 2006, after DNA evidence in 2000 indicated someone else had committed the crime. Prosecutors dropped the rape charge in 2012 and closed the prosecution altogether Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim, who just took over the office from 22-year veteran prosecutor Michael Waller, made the decision to clear Starks, and said he has put together a legal panel to review potentially problematic cases and is taking other steps to try to identify instances in which people may have been wrongly prosecuted, the newspaper said.

Nerheim says he is receiving inquiries from defense lawyers who want clients' cases reviewed and has already been asked to send 10 cases to the review panel.

He says he expects many more requests for review.

"I've been leaving out of the fire exit," he said. "I think just about every person that's been convicted in the last 20 years wants their case reviewed."

He was laughing when he said it, the Tribune reported, but he acknowledged the office's image "has been tarnished, and one of my top priorities is to restore that."

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