Chicago Tribune

Governor pardons man DNA cleared
By Steve Mills; Chicago Tribune
August 4, 2005

A Lake County man who spent more than 4 years in state prison for rape, only to be cleared by DNA tests after he had served his sentence, was granted a pardon Wednesday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"After all these years, I'm free like a bird," Alejandro Dominguez said after learning that the governor had granted his clemency request.

Dominguez, 31, can now apply to the Illinois Court of Claims to receive financial compensation for his time spent in prison.

Dominguez was 16 when he was charged with the September 1989 home invasion and rape in Waukegan. He was convicted in a 1990 trial, in large part because the victim identified him as her attacker.

Dominguez insisted he was wrongly identified and was innocent.

Sentenced to 9 years in state prison, he served more than 4years, receiving time off for good behavior, before he was released in December 1993.

Even though he was free, Dominguez continued to try to prove his innocence. His conviction required him to register as a sex offender and made it difficult to get a job. He said he also had trouble obtaining financial aid to go to college.

Dominguez persuaded lawyer Jed Stone to seek DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim.

The tests excluded Dominguez as a source of the semen, and they prompted Lake County prosecutors and Stone to ask a judge to vacate the convictions.

In April 2002, that judge overturned Dominguez's convictions.

Still, Dominguez said the case haunted him. Employers still were wary of hiring him. The jobs he could get were low-paying and involved menial labor.

He said his children and family also were tarnished by the case.

"I was out of jail but the record still put me in a hole," he said in an interview.

"Everywhere I turned, you know, the record was there."

Stone said the pardon expunges the conviction from Dominguez's record and should help to ease employers' doubts about the 4 1/2-year gap in his resume.

"It gives Alejandro the ability to reclaim his life," he said.

Jane Raley, an attorney at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions,
which filed Dominguez's clemency request, said the "official affirmation of innocence will help restore the dignity that was taken from" Dominguez.

Michael Mermel, an assistant Lake County state's attorney, said that prosecutors did not file a response to Dominguez's pardon request.

Blagojevich spokesman Gerardo Cardenas said that the governor found the Dominguez case clear-cut and felt compelled to act to clear Dominguez's record.

"It was obvious that this man was innocent. DNA exonerated him," said Cardenas, noting that Dominguez was the fifth man whom Blagojevich had pardoned after DNA had undermined their convictions.

In announcing Dominguez's pardon, Cardenas sought to dispel any suggestion that Blagojevich might be soft on crime. He said the governor had in the last week denied more than 250 other clemency requests.

Cardenas said that the denials were given to violent criminals.

In addition, Cardenas said that the governor expects to deny the clemency requests of another 300 to 400 requests in the coming weeks.

A backlog of more than 1,300 clemency requests exists, although Cardenas disputed suggestions that there was a backlog of requests at all.

"We don't think clemencies fall under the backlog category because there's no deadline," he said.

Still, Dominguez said that the wait for his pardon was difficult, especially since he believed his case should have been easy to decide.

"This has been a long wait," said Dominguez. "For me, it was forever."

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