- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - A Peoria County judge has declared innocent a man who was once convicted in a 1994 home invasion and sexual assault.

The (Peoria) Journal Star (https://bit.ly/1FkpwTz ) reports Judge David Brown found 41-year-old Christopher Coleman innocent after a review of the evidence as well as testimony in two previous hearings.

“I want to thank God for everything,” Coleman said. “I mean, it’s over, it’s over. I get to be a free man, an innocent man. The courts declared that.”

Coleman was convicted in 1995 of armed robbery and aggravated criminal sexual assault, and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison. The state Supreme Court ordered a new trial for him in October 2013, overturning an appellate court ruling.

While Coleman was free on bond in March 2014, prosecutors dropped all charges against him after finding problems with related evidence, which included the recanting of testimony. Since his conviction, others who weren’t charged came forward and said they were involved and Coleman wasn’t. They cannot be charged as the statute of limitations on the case has run out.

Coleman then asked the court to find him innocent, and his attorneys with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s School of Law had to prove this was more likely true than not.

Karen Daniel, co-director of the center, said Coleman is the first person to be declared innocent in court in Peoria County. Having his charges dismissed wasn’t a statement of his innocence, she said.

“And there were a lot of doubters and impediments to moving forward in his life,” she said. “It’s absolutely justified.”

Brown said new evidence “persuades me that we didn’t get right,” but he didn’t think prosecutors did anything improper in Coleman’s conviction.

“I am convinced by the evidence Mr. Coleman’s case is one of those rare instances that fall within the gap of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and absolute 100 percent proof,” he said.

After this week’s hearing, Coleman’s mother said the family can now move forward with their lives.

“I can’t get those years back, but we live now,” she said.

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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