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DNA Helps Win Ohio Man’s Release

May 15, 2006

MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) _ A man who served four years in prison for vehicular homicide in the death of his best friend was released after DNA evidence strongly suggested he was actually a passenger in the car rather than the driver.

``I knew I was innocent, but nobody believed me and nobody really cared,″ Christopher Bennett, 30, told WCPO-TV in Cincinnati after his release Sunday.

Bennett was sentenced to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges in the May 2001 accident that killed Ronald Young, 42.

Authorities said the men were drunk when their van spun out of control and hit a parked truck. Young was found between the seats and Bennett in the back of the van, so it wasn’t clear who was driving.

Bennett, who suffered a tear in his brain in the crash, said he pleaded guilty because prosecutors said accident reconstruction showed he was the driver. But as he gradually began to remember the crash, Bennett said he started to believe Young was actually driving.

A group of University of Cincinnati law students took on Bennett’s case and found a witness who said that Bennett was in the passenger seat. Hair tufts and a blood-soaked paper towel from the passenger side of the van also matched Bennett.

In January, Bennett won an appeal allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea.

Prosecutors agreed to a deal last week in which Bennett pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including a reduced aggravated vehicular homicide count. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison _ time that he already had served.

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