After spending almost half of his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit, 47 year-old Bennie Starks performs a bunny hop upon his release.  In 1986, he was convicted of battery and sexually assaulting a 69 year-old woman in Waukegan, Illinois.  At his trial the evidence presented was overwhelmingly against him.  The accuser physically identified him as her attacker, a Gurnee dentist had matched Stark’s teeth to a bite mark on the woman, his jacket was found near the scene of the crime, and a crime lab analyst had placed Starks’ DNA at the scene of the crime. 

Upon investigation of the matter, Starks contended that he had spent the evening at a local tavern and on his way home he was robbed of his coat and his money.  His verbal defense proved to little in lieu of the evidence against him.  He was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the sexual assault charge and 5 years in prison for battery. 

In 2002 Starks appeared to have caught a break.  DNA tests proved the DNA found in the woman’s underwear did not belong to Benny Starks.  Since the woman testified in court that she had not engaged in consensual sex in the two weeks prior to her victimization, Starks’ lawyer filed a motion for a new trial.  This motion was denied.

Two years ago another break in favor of Sparks arose.  A swab taken fromt the woman’s body in 1986 was thought to have been lost.  But it was re-discovered in the Northen Illinois Crime Lab.  It took more than a year of legal b.s. before the justice system allowed authorities to retest it for DNA.  After doing so, the DNA on the swab did not match Benny Starks’ DNA.  Starks’ attorneys also contested that the methodology used to identify the bite mark twenty years ago was faulty.  What’s disturbing is that this swab was in attendance during the trial in 1986, and at that time it was reported to contain Starks’ DNA.  Unfortunately, after the trial the swab miraculously disappeared.  But it has since re-emerged twenty years later. 

Many people believe he has a right to be angry, even to hate those that have wrongfully imprisoned him, but he begs to differ.  Since he found the Lord eight years ago, he has learned to forgive.  Instead he claims, “I just want to enjoy the fresh air and even the rain.  I just want to see everyone I can.  Cousins, aunts, grandmothers, everyone.”

His sister remarked, “It was tough for the family, but we made it through on the strength of God.”

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