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New Jersey man who spent 4 years in prison for rape exonerated

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A.J. Ross reports a man who went to prison for rape was able to clear his name in court.

A man from New Jersey who served four years in prison for a rape he didn't commit and then spent 20 years on a sex offender registry is finally getting the chance to clear his name.

Dion Harrell always maintained his innocence of the 1988 rape of a teenager who was attacked walking home from her job at McDonald's in Long Branch, and now, with the help of The Innocence Project, there is no disputing his claim.

The organization agreed to take up the case three years ago, and on Wednesday, the results of DNA tests cleared his name in court. It signaled the start of a new life with new possibilities.

He was just 22 years old at the time, when faulty forensics and witness testimony pinned him as the culprit. The prosecution presented testimony from an analyst who placed Harrell in less than 2 percent of the population who could have deposited the sperm in the rape kit. But because the victim and Harrell had the same blood type, in actuality no conclusion could be drawn as to the source of the semen.

Harrell testified at trial and called several alibi witnesses who corroborated his testimony that he was playing basketball the night of the crime, but he was still convicted.

The request to re-test the rape kit was initially denied because the law only applied to those who were still in prison. Prosecutors finally agreed to the test last year.

The tests proved there was no way Harrell could have been responsible for the rape, and he was overwhelmed with emotion when he was finally exonerated.

"When you know you're right, keep going for it," he said. "If you didn't do anything wrong, maintain your innocence. Fight. Fight like I did. Fight."

His aunt, Peggy Bennett, praised his efforts.

"You have to commend him for doing that, because he's always, always maintained his innocence," she said. "And now, the world knows that he was innocent."
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