Associated Press

Man freed from prison won't be tried again

(Published Tuesday, July 24, 2007 10:49:55 AM CST)

Associated Press

ANTIGO, Wis. - A man who served nearly 10 years in prison for raping a teenage girl before a judge freed him because he didn't get a fair trial will not be tried again, a prosecutor decided Monday.

Jeffrey J. Dake, 37, of Deerbrook, was released from prison in June after the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School convinced a judge that he deserved a new trial on two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child.

Langlade County District Attorney Ralph Uttke filed a motion Monday dismissing the charges.

Then Judge Fred Kawalski said the words Dake wanted to hear.

"You can go," Kawalski said without comment.

"After spending 10 long years in the state prison for a crime I did not commit, I do not have any animosities toward anyone," Dake said later, "although I feel I was 'Nifonged."'

He referred to North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong who has been disbarred after three members of the Duke lacrosse team were cleared of rape charges he pursued against them.

Uttke said the victim in Dake's case did not want another trial.

"She did not want to testify," he said. "I felt in the interest of justice, he had spent a number of years in prison and no one would really gain by retrying this."

John Pray, co-director of the Innocence Project, said he was not surprised.

"Mr. Dake has been very adamant from the beginning of this case that he is innocent," Pray said.

Dake is the fourth inmate released from a Wisconsin prison in the past 12 months because of work done by the Innocence Project, Pray said. Four years ago, the Innocence Project proved Steven Avery was wrongly convicted of rape after he served 18 years in prison. But Avery quickly got into trouble again. Earlier this year, he was convicted of murdering a woman.

Dake was convicted of the sexual assault in 1997, a year after a 14-year-old girl told investigators that Dake, a friend of her family who stayed in her home occasionally, came home intoxicated and twice had sexual intercourse with her over a two-week period, Pray said.

A jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1998.

In seeking a new trial, the Innocence Project argued the jury was denied information about a key witness in the case - the girl's father.

The judge agreed.

According to Pray, the girl's father had been charged with assaulting her two months before Dake's trial. A jury should have been told that information to better judge Dake's credibility, Pray said.

The girl testified someone jumped into her bed in the middle of the night and she believed it was Dake, even though it was dark, Pray said.

Her father testified that Dake had knowledge of the crime that only the rapist would know - that the girl was offered $20 to not tell anybody about the assault, Pray said.

"Mr. Dake said he got that information in a conversation with the parents the next day," Pray said. "The father denied that."

The testimony was key because it raised the question of how Dake could know about the $20 if he hadn't offered it, Pray said.

"It turns out the father had been charged with sexually assaulting the same girl over the same period of time and was in negotiations with the district attorney about his own case," Pray said.

"Our claim, and the judge agreed with it, was the jury certainly should have known that when this father was testifying, he was in his own hot water," Pray said.

Dake urged others who were wrongly convicted not to lose hope.

"To the 15 percent of those innocent people in prison who are not guilty of the crimes they were convicted of, don't ever give up the faith there is a divine light where you least expect it," Dake said.

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