CHICAGO (CBS)-- Cook County prosecutors on Tuesday dropped murder charges against Francisco Benitez, who spent 34 years behind bars before a judge exonerated him last month.
Benitez, 52,after a judge tossed his murder conviction.
When he was 18, he was convicted of the 1989 murder of two teenagers, but has said he was innocent all these years.
At a hearing Tuesday morning, Cook County prosecutors formally dropped the charges against him.
"It feels great," Benitez said after the hearing. "The state dropped the charges, and I'm done, free."
Benitez had been placed on electronic monitoring after his release from jail last month, but that monitoring will now end.
"Today, Frankie Benitez's 34-year nightmare is finally over," said Benitez's attorney, Anand Swaminathan. "It's over. It's finally over for Frankie. We are grateful to the Cook County State's Attorney's office for making the decision that they made today not to seek to retry him. The judge had made a decision based on actual innocence, and we always felt that that actual innocence's finding would lead to this decision today that the state's attorney would not seek to retry him, but we had to wait and see what they would do, and today we got the answer. The answer is Frankie is innocent, and he's home, and this is over."
Benitez said he was framed by CPD detectives who worked out of Area 5.
"I'm not bitter. I just … this system needs to be fixed. It's very, very broken," he said. "There's more guys like me going through this."
At a hearing in April, evidence was presented supporting his exoneration. Two eyewitnesses now say they saw who actually committed the murders. It wasn't Benitez. Swaminathan said those witnesses were afraid to come forward until recently because of what could happen to them.
"Those boys came forward now, and told the story of who committed this crime, and no witness ever identified Frankie Benitez as the shooter," he said. "There is no witness who at trial ever said they had seen the shooting, or even saw a gun, who identified Frankie Benitez. So those two boys gave very powerful evidence demonstrating that, in fact, the real shooters are two other individuals, and that the evidence used against Frankie Benitez was all fabricated. It was fake, it was made up, and it was used to put a case on a young man, because they couldn't figure out who had actually done it."
Benitez said, now that he is cleared and is no longer on electronic monitoring, he plans to go visit his sister, and then he's looking forward to attending a Bears game.
Meantime, Swaminathan said the two detectives in Benitez's case have been accused of framing others.
In 2012, a federal jury awarded Thaddeus "T.J." Jimenez $25 million in damages in a wrongful conviction lawsuit against detectives Jerome Bogucki and Raymond Schalk, according to court records. Bogucki and Schalk are no longer on the force.
Jimenez was laterafter prosecutors said he used the $25 million award on his gang, the Simon City Royals, and to recruit members of another gang, the Vice Lords.
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