Innocent Man Cleared Of Rape Charges

A calm Dean Cage offered some hard-earned advice Wednesday, hours after being released from prison after serving more than 12 years for a rape he didn't commit.

"If you believe in something, fight for it," the 41-year-old said. "The truth will come out in the end."

Cage, who became the 29th Illinoisan to be exonerated by DNA evidence, was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to 40 years in prison for the rape of a 15-year-old girl. On Tuesday, Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel dismissed the conviction at the request of the Cook County state's attorney's office.

Cage was released from Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton late Tuesday evening and went straight to his mother's home on Chicago's South Side for an all-night celebration with family.

"It didn't seem like it was real," he said of life on the outside. "It was really scary. At the same time, it was a blessing."

Dressed in baggy jeans and a white T-shirt, Cage told reporters Wednesday that he got through the toughest times in prison with the support of his family, reading novels, playing basketball and faith.

"There's a God up there. He blessed me," Cage said. "I couldn't have done this without him."

The New York-based Innocence Project worked for several years on Cage's case, and said nationally he is the 217th person exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence. Only Texas, with 31, has more DNA exoneration cases than Illinois.

"The single greatest cause of wrongful convictions is victim misidentification," said attorney Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the organization.

Cage, who worked at a Chicago supermarket, said he was home at the time the teenager said she was attacked while walking to school in November 1994.

The teenager gave a composite drawing description to authorities and after it was circulated police brought Cage in as a suspect. The girl identified him as her attacker.

Cage was also accused in the rape of a 29-year-old woman, but acquitted of those charges. Evidence at the time discounted Cage as the attacker, Neufeld said.

Cage, who has always maintained his innocence, said he asked numerous times for a DNA test while in jail. He said his family had even tried to pay for it themselves.

He wrote to the Innocence Project and they took his case in 2004.

While in prison, Cage missed his three young boys growing up, both his grandparents' funerals and the 12 surgeries his mother underwent for thyroid and heart conditions.

"They stole my son's life. They stole mine too," Cage's 63-year-old mother Jerley said through tears.

Cage appeared overwhelmed on Wednesday, saying he was amazed by advances in technology, especially all "the little phones." Cage said he wasn't angry or bitter and renewed his faith by reading the Bible.

"We can never know how he got through those years," said Alba Morales, an attorney who worked on Cage's case.

Innocence Project officials made an appeal to Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday to pardon Cage and others in his same situation, so that they can receive compensation due to them under state law.

Cage, who said he has no money or material possessions, said he will try to look for work.

"I guess I gotta try to take one day at a time," he said.