Illinois Man Falsely Convicted of Rape Released After 20 Years
On March 9, 2015, the rape and kidnapping charges against Angel Gonzalez that had held him in prison for nearly 20 years were dismissed. He had been exonerated by DNA evidence. However, he was not immediately released because he had been convicted of damaging a sink while in prison and sentenced to three years imprisonment. Those charges were also dismissed the next day.
Working with Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim, Innocence Project lawyers Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin and Illinois Innocence Project lawyer Lauren Kaeseberg helped Gonzalez establish his innocence. This was complicated by the fact that, during a highly suggestive one-on-one show up, Gonzalez had been identified by the victim as one of two men who dragged her from her Waukegan, Illinois apartment into a car, drove her to a nearby back yard and raped her. Gonzalez had also confessed to the crimes after a coercive 12-hour interrogation during which police provided details of the crimes to him and lied to him, claiming they had other evidence connecting him to the crimes. They also wrote out his confession in English, a language he could not understand. Four of the police officers who conducted the interrogation have been involved in other wrongful convictions or police brutality. Gonzalez's prosecutor, Michael Waller, is known for having convicted several people who were later exonerated. He has refused to apologize to any of them.
DNA testing in the early 2000's determined that Gonzalez's DNA did not match material taken from the victim. However, only one man's DNA was found and, since Gonzalez's confession said that he wore a condom during the assault, the evidence did not exonerate Gonzalez. Recent DNA testing revealed two male DNA profiles, neither of whom matched Gonzalez. This led to his exoneration.
Gonzalez had been arrested because, three hours after the crime, his car had been spotted in the apartment complex where the victim lived. It matched the vague description—dark, late-model sedan—she had given police. He had been in the complex with his girlfriend visiting her sister and was with them when the rape occurred. Despite his alibi, Gonzalez was convicted.
The dismissal of charges against Gonzalez did not result in his immediate release as he had been convicted of damaging a sink while in prison in the late 1990's and sentenced to three years’ incarceration to begin after his sentence for the rape was completed. The Innocence Project again stepped in to assist Gonzalez. They argued that the property damage charges should also be dismissed as Gonzalez pled guilty to the charges without an interpreter present. The judge dismissed the property damage charges and Gonzalez was released on March 10, 2015, after having served almost 20 years of his 55-year sentence resulting from the wrongful conviction.
The Innocence Project also helped Gonzales with immigration issues. His visa expired while he was incarcerated and there was an immigration hold on him. However, Innocence Project lawyers convinced immigration authorities to lift the hold and allow Gonzalez to remain in the country while he applies for citizenship.
Sources: www.innocenceproject.org, Chicago Tribune