URBANA – Alan Beaman's years-long wait to clear his name, including 13 years spent in prison, ended Thursday with a brief hearing and low-key legal formalities that declared him innocent in the 1993 killing of his former girlfriend.
After a judge agreed to grant him a certificate of innocence, the missing piece Beaman has sought since he was freed from prison in 2008, Beaman calmly walked out of an Urbana courtroom with his wife and parents. He told reporters he was relieved but had expected the outcome.
"It's over," he said.
Beaman, now 40, had been convicted in the strangulation death of Illinois State University student Jennifer Lockmiller. He was serving a 50-year sentence when the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 2008, and DNA testing pointed to two previously unknown potential suspects in the case.
The certificate of innocence granted by Champaign County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Ford allows Beaman to formally clear his name, though he noted he may never be able to fully separate himself from the case.
"Perhaps it makes life a little easier if I go on a job interview," said Beaman, who now works as a machinist in Rockford, his hometown. "The story is very public — you can't get it off of Google, you can't get it off of YouTube."
Beaman's innocence petition was one of about two dozen filed under a 2008 state law that allows people to ask a court for a finding of innocence after their convictions have been reversed or vacated.
In a rare step, his petition was set to go to trial because prosecutors initially opposed Beaman's request. Usually, innocence petitions are resolved without a trial.
But McLean County prosecutors dropped their objections several weeks ago.
Assistant State's Attorney Pablo Eves appeared in court for the county, but he said little, shaking Beaman's hand before quickly leaving the courtroom.
McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers, who took office after winning election last year and wasn't involved in Beaman's prosecution, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
But in a statement made when the county decided not to oppose Beaman's innocence petition, he said results returned last year of DNA testing requested by the state had convinced him to end the opposition.
That didn't amount to an admission of misconduct in the prosecution of the case — Beaman is suing two former prosecutors and several police officers. Chambers also noted, according to The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington, that the certificate doesn't provide Beaman with clemency, which could shield him from future charges in Lockmiller's death.
"I do not believe that any individual should be immunized from possible prosecution for Ms. Lockmiller's tragic death," Chambers said, calling the case "wide open."
Investigators in Normal, where Lockmiller was found dead in her apartment near the ISU campus, also did not return calls Thursday from The Associated Press.
Beaman was a student at Illinois Wesleyan University in nearby Bloomington when he was arrested in 1994. He always has insisted he was at his parents' home in Rockford when Lockmiller was killed.
The DNA evidence was found on three pieces of Lockmiller's clothing and on the cord of the alarm clock believed to have been used to strangle her. Beaman has been excluded as a potential source of that DNA.
Beaman and his parents said they hadn't been in contact with Lockmiller's family since the death.
Beaman's mother, Carol, said she and her husband, Barry Beaman, had never expected it to take so many years for their son to be cleared.
"Every turn, we thought he was going to be exonerated," she said. "It was just a lot of turns."
Alan Beaman said his optimism grew in 2004, when Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions got involved.
One of his attorneys, Jeff Urdangen, had made a presentation on the case to a class taught by one of the center's lawyers, Karen Daniel. After appearing in court Thursday, Daniel said she found the evidence that sent Beaman to prison very thin.
Beaman was prosecuted by then-State's Attorney Charles Reynard, now a McLean County judge, and assistant state's attorney James Souk, who also later became a McLean County judge but retired last year.
Reynard and Souk couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. Both men are among the defendants in Beaman's lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
Beaman, who has a 9-month-old daughter with his wife and a 9-year-old stepdaughter, said he has talked a little with the older girl about the case as she became aware it, hearing he and his wife discuss it in bits and pieces. And he's willing, when the time comes, to discuss with his infant daughter a piece of his life that will never fully go away.
"There are the cases out there," he said, "and that daddy is involved (with) this, and will be for the rest of his life."