CHICAGO (WLS) — A man is now free after spending decades in prison for a murder he said he did not commit.
A judge vacated the conviction and sentence of Francisco “Frankie” Benitez Tuesday, after he spent 34 years in prison.
The 52-year old was released from prison after a Cook County judge threw out his conviction and sentence for a double murder he said he did not commit.
Over the objections of prosecutors, Benitez was released without having to post bond. He will have to wear an ankle monitor and return to court in September, but as of Tuesday night he is free.
“It’s indescribable,” Benitez said after hugging his mother outside the Cook County Jail.
“This has been a very, very long road, and I’m glad my son is coming home,” Benitez’s mother Betty Benitez said.
Francisco Benitez was convicted in September of 1991. He was arrested when he was just 18 years old, but maintained his innocence, saying that he had an alibi, and was being framed by Chicago Police Department detectives.
“You can’t have faith in the system, to be honest, you know what I mean?” Benitez’s brother Victor Benitez said. “Because look what happens when you do have faith in the system.”
Benitez’s attorneys said he was convicted in part on a confession coerced by Area Five detectives. Lawyers with the Exoneration Project and a private firm took on his case.
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At an evidentiary hearing in April, attorneys for Benitez presented new eyewitness evidence, saying he didn’t shoot the teens.
“The third man to have a conviction vacated and come home based on actions they took as police officers to frame innocent men,” said Anand Swaminathan, with Loevy & Loevy.
Benitez’s advocates said a former gang units officer came forward admitting in court that he never believed Benitez was the right suspect.
Two eyewitnesses to the crime who are now adults said Benitez didn’t commit the murders and that they didn’t come forward earlier because their mother told them not to say anything about what they had seen.
“Look at this family, still here after those 34 years, just like they were for all of that time. That’s what was ripped from this family,” said Josh Tepfer, with the Exoneration Project.
All the new evidence and testimony convinced the court Benitez was not the killer and that his confession had been coerced.
After leaving the jai, Benitez said he was headed to Jimmy’s Red Hots in Humboldt Park for his first meal as a free man in more than 30 years.
Prosecutors, if they choose, can retry Benitez’s case. A status hearing is scheduled for September 26.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said it could not comment on pending litigation.