A man wrongly convicted of rape is finally free after spending nearly half his life in prison. After hugging his lawyers from the Innocence Project, Illinois' Angel Gonzalez left Dixon Correctional Center yesterday with his arms raised, saying simply, "the past is the past." A day earlier, a judge threw out Gonzalez's conviction for the abduction and rape of a woman in 1994 at the request of state attorney Mike Nerheim. Though NBC News reports the victim identified Gonzalez, new DNA tests show bodily fluids related to the crime came not from Gonzalez but from two still-unidentified men, the Chicago Tribune reports. Yesterday, a judge waived Gonzalez's conviction and three-year sentence for property damage—the 41-year-old broke a sink while in solitary confinement, his lawyers say—allowing for his release.
Nerheim apologized outside court, though it was prosecutors under his predecessor, Michael Waller, who secured Gonzalez's wrongful conviction, as well as three others that have since been overturned. Nerheim told the Chicago Tribune that the victim was "devastated" to learn Gonzalez would be cleared. The then-35-year-old victim was taken from her Waukegan home, put in a sedan, and driven to a location where she was raped by two men. Gonzalez was stopped the next day while behind the wheel of a car similar to the one she had described. In 1994, Gonzalez, who speaks little English, gave a statement to police admitting to taking part in the assault but said he didn't ejaculate; he has since maintained his innocence, and testified he was with his girlfriend at the time. A Mexican national, Gonzalez's visa expired after his arrest, but he's gotten the OK to stay in the US while he pursues citizenship, one of his lawyers says. (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)