Sunday, April 22, 2007

DNA clears man of rape after 25 years in prison

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It came as no surprise to Jerry Miller last week when the test results came back showing he could not have committed the 1981 rape he served 25 years in prison for. He knew he was innocent.

On Monday, his attorneys will appear in Cook County Criminal Court to ask that his conviction be vacated, and Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine's office, which agreed to the DNA testing last year, will join the motion.

"It feels great," said Miller, who's living with a cousin in the south suburbs since his parole last year. For years, he wrote to lawyers, journalists and others looking for help with his case. "It took a long time."

The New York-based Innocence Project took up his case and asked Devine's office last year to agree to the DNA testing, which was not available when Miller was convicted in the early '80s.

"He will be the 200th post-conviction exoneration in the country," said Colin Starger, the staff attorney with the nonprofit group that handled Miller's case.

If Judge Diane Gordon Cannon approves the motion, it will end Miller's supervised home release, take his picture off the state's sex-offender registry, and allow him to try to get on with his life, 25 years later, his attorneys say.

William Wolf, the assistant public defender representing Miller here, said when prosecutors confirmed the DNA of semen found on the rape victim's clothes did not match Miller, they ran it against a national criminal database and got a "hit."

That could mean that the rapist, who went free while police targeted Miller, went out and committed another crime for which he was arrested, but prosecutors are not giving any more details on the DNA "hit" and whether that offender is in custody or was convicted of another rape or some other crime.

"We don't know what he was convicted for that put him in the database, other than it was a felony," Wolf said.

Miller had the misfortune to resemble a sketch of the rapist, drawn using information from parking garage attendants who saw the man flee. The victim had been warned by the rapist not to look at him or he would kill her. She was raped in her car, then put in her trunk and later rescued by the parking attendants.