Man exonerated after 8 years in prison

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego County man was formally exonerated of all charges Tuesday after spending eight years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

Uriah Courtney was freed more than two years after the California Innocence Project team from California Western School of Law took on his case.

Courtney was originally sentenced to life in prison for raping and kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in Lemon Grove.

“I knew I was innocent,” Courtney said. “It was great to have somebody come along and say that, too, and that could actually do something about it.”

It wasn’t easy, but the team worked with the district attLocal man exonerated after eight years in prisonorney to get the victim’s clothing reexamined using more advanced DNA testing.

“We know from the past 20 years, from hundreds of exonerations, that eyewitness identification evidence is not that strong, even though it’s very powerful to juries,” Justin Brooks with the California Innocence Project said. “When you match it up against DNA, it all falls apart.”

They ran the results through a national DNA database of convicted sex offenders, and found a match for a man who looked very similar to Courtney and was living in the area at the time of the crime.

“Whenever we have reasonable doubt, we act,” Deputy District Attorney Brent Neck said. “If it’s in the beginning of the case, we don’t charge the person. If it’s during or after the case, we dismiss the case.  That’s what we did here. It was the right thing to do.”

Courtney was released in May, and the charges against him were formally dismissed Tuesday by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

“I feel like I could fly. It’s like being born again,” Courtney said.

There was plenty of applauding, hugging and teary eyes at the press conference.

“I just thank God he’s home with us finally. I never thought I’d see this day,” Courtney’s mother Mary Gambino said.