Bennie Starks is now, officially, an innocent man.
Lake County Judge George Bridges approved a letter of innocence for the 53-year-old Starks on Wednesday, the final paperwork in clearing his name.
"It feels great," Starks said after leaving court, clearly relieved to have the issue behind him. "It's a good day."
Thus ends Starks' long criminal legal saga, in which the Chicago man spent 20 years in prison after being found guilty of the 1986 rape of a 69-year-old woman in a Waukegan ravine.
Starks was due to spend 60 years in prison for the crime, but a 2006 appellate court decision threw out his conviction when DNA evidence cleared him.
The rape charges against him were dropped in 2011, but prosecutors refused to drop a charge of aggravated battery until earlier this year.
At that time, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said the aggravated battery charge was dropped because of the 20 years Starks spent in prison, and was not a determination of his innocence.
Attorney John Stainthorpe said the letter of innocence is important in case Starks files a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the county.
"It's important because it's a formal declaration of innocence for Mr. Starks," Stainthorpe said. "It shows that Bennie is innocent of these charges."