Man Wrongly Imprisoned for 20 Years May Sue
CHICAGO (CN) - An innocent man imprisoned for 20 years for a sexual assault he did not commit may sue the forensics experts who falsely testified that his semen and teeth marks were linked to the crime, a federal judge ruled.
In 1986, Bennie Starks was convicted of aggravated sexual assault, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. But in 2002, Starks sought a new trial, arguing that DNA evidence excluded him as the attacker.
In 2006, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated Starks' conviction, and remanded the case for retrial. Starks was released on bond, and the state dropped all charges in 2012.
Starks then filed a federal complaint against the City of Waukegan, Illinois, and the government witnesses who testified against him, alleging violation of his due process rights and conspiracy.
He claims Officers W. Biand and M. Juarez induced the victim to identify Starks as her attacker from a photo line-up, and met with her several times to ensure her story undermined Starks' alibi.
Drs. Carl Hagstrom and Dr. Russell Schneider, two dentists, allegedly testified that a bite mark on the victim's body matched Starks' teeth, but they used a methodology which they knew at the time was outdated and could not be relied upon.
Furthermore, the state's forensic technician, Sharon Thomas-Boyd, submitted a report falsely claiming that the semen found on the victim could have been Starks', although her tests excluded Starks as the source.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman denied the defendants' motions to dismiss except for Starks' claim for emotional distress, which is time-barred.
While the police may have immunity for lying to the jury, "the police defendants do not argue that the other allegations against them - for instance, that they caused M.G. to identify Starks as her assailant by giving her a suggestive photo array, and filed reports that falsely attributed inculpatory statements to Starks - could not ground a due process claim," Feinerman said.
He also upheld Starks' claims that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to convict him for the crime. "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 judge said.