Angel Gonzalez, of Waukegan, spent 20 years behind bars before being formally exonerated of rape and abduction charges on Monday. The basis of the exoneration was DNA. While bodily fluids implicate two different men in the crime, neither DNA sample matched that of Gonzalez.
Gonzalez appeared in a Lake County courtroom, shackled at the ankles, as Judge Victoria Rossetti vacated the conviction. While the excitement was evident, Gonzalez was then sent back to prison for a 1997 charge of criminal damage to property for allegedly damaging a sink while in solitary confinement.
On Tuesday, Gonzalez's attorneys asked a Livingston County judge to vacate the charge because there was no interpreter present when Gonzalez, who speaks little English, pled guilty. Judge Jennifer Bauknecht agreed to vacate the conviction and the prosecutors then agreed to drop the charges.
Gonzalez is the fifth individual in 20 years to be exonerated of a major felony in Lake County. Two of these men, Juan Rivera and Bennie Starks, who spent years in prison, were present in the courtroom on Monday.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim was also present. After the hearing, he apologized to Gonzalez: "If words were enough, I'd say I'm sorry, and I am sorry."
As of Tuesday night, Gonzalez was released.
A detainer was placed on Gonzalez in 1995, which would have required that he be sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") after his release from prison. However, an ICE spokeswoman said in a statement, "Since Mr. Gonzalez has been exonerated on all charges, ICE is exercising prosecutorial discretion and has canceled his detainer." Gonzalez's immigration status is still unclear and the ICE spokeswoman referred questions to Citizenship and Immigration Services.
After 20 years in prison, Lake County clears man in rape -- but he isn't free, www.chicagotribune.com, March 9, 2015
Man cleared in '94 rape walks out of prison as 2nd case dropped, www.chicagotribune.com, March 10, 2015
Angel Gonzalez, Illinois Man Exonerated in 1994 Rape Goes Free, www.nbcnews.com, March 10, 2015