After serving 20 years for a crime he did not commit, Bennie Starks may sue the forensic experts who falsely testified against him back in 1986. A district judge has agreed with Starks that forensic experts conspired to falsely accuse him.
Starks was convicted of the aggravated sexual assault of a 69-year-old woman in Waukegan, Ill., in 1986. Government witnesses, two dentists and a forensic technologist testified against him.
In 2002, DNA evidence excluded Starks from being the attacker. In 2006, his conviction was vacated and he was released on bond. He waited six years until the state of Illinois dropped all charges against him in 2012.
Two dentists, Dr. Carl Hagstrom and Dr. Russell Schneider, testified that bite-mark evidence matched Starks’ teeth. But their methodology was apparently outdated and unreliable.
The testimony of the state’s forensic technician, Sharon Thomas-Boyd, was allegedly falsified. Thomas-Boyd issued a report falsely claiming that the semen found on the victim could have been Starks', although her tests excluded him as the source.
The rape victim identified Starks in a police lineup. He believes police coached her to pick him.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman believe Starks' theory that the experts colluded against him. According to court documents, Feinerman said:
"The complaint amply alleges that the police defendants, the dentist defendants, and Thomas-Boyd all worked to get Starks convicted for a crime he did not commit, and it is more plausible that they each made their contributions to that effort in the context of an agreement to secure a wrongful conviction than that, by some wild coincidence, everyone who came into contact with Starks's case independently developed a desire to see him convicted and a willingness to lie in pursuit of that goal.”
The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that helps to exonerate wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing, agreed to represent Starks in 1996.
“Bennie’s case features a wrongful identification and also faulty forensics,” the Innocence Project’s Lauren Kaeseberg said in January. “Misidentifications make up 75 percent of wrongful convictions.”
Now 53 years old, Starks says the conspiracy caused him emotional distress. His lawsuit accuses forensic experts of filing false reports, giving false statement, pursuing wrongful persecutions and conspiring against him. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
Judge Feinerman denied all motions with the exception of the intentional infliction of emotional distress.