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After Eight Years In Prison, Man Cleared Of Rape Charges

The County District Attorney has formally dismissed kidnapping and rape charges against a San Diego man serving life in prison.

Alissa Bjerkhoel makes a presentation to the California Innocence Project seminar at California Western School of Law.
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Above: Alissa Bjerkhoel makes a presentation to the California Innocence Project seminar at California Western School of Law.

He was wrongfully convicted of grabbing a women in Lemon Grove and sexually assaulting her. But it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

Aired 6/26/13 on KPBS News.

Uriah Courtney, 33, served 8 years of a life sentence for a crime new DNA testing determined was committed by someone who looked like him.

Uriah Courtney, 33, served 8 years of a life sentence for a crime new DNA testing determined was committed by someone who looked like him.

"It was a terrible experience, one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," Courtney said. "I'm just grateful to be out and grateful to the California Innocence Project for everything they've done on my case."

Justin Brooks, director of the project at San Diego's California Western School of Law, said it's hard to look at someone like Courtney and say he's a lucky man.

"But he was lucky the evidence wasn't thrown out, his case caught our eye, we got cooperation from the DA and he was lucky ultimately to be exonerated," Brooks said.

Courtney still faces drug charges from a separate case, but he's now the eleventh person to be freed from prison by the California Innocence Project. His lawyer, Alissa Bjerkhoel, said it's all bittersweet.

"You know, for every client we get out, there's another one in there that we really believe in that we have not been able to get out," she said.

About one out of every 1,000 cases the California Innocence Project reviews is exonerated. Last year, Brian Banks was cleared of sexual assault charges after serving 10 years in prison.

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