Kenneth Ireland is free. His life was turned upside down when he was wrongfully thrown into a murder and rape case and forever changed when he was convicted of the crimes DNA has since proved he did not commit.
Wednesday, a judge dismissed the charges. Ireland spent 20 years in jail.
Ireland was 20 years old when he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1986 rape and murder of Barbara Pelkey.
The body of the mother of four was found nude at the former R.S. Moulding and Manufacturing Co. in Wallingford, where she worked alone at night.
On Aug. 5, a state judge overturned his conviction. Wednesday, a judge dismissed the charges.
Surrounded by family, an emotional Ireland hugged his family and walked out of courtroom. He said he is going to have a home-cooked Italian meal after this.
Robert Stanislow, the jury foreman in the 1988 case, recently told NBC Connecticut that the decision to convict Ireland of rape and murder wasn't an easy conclusion to reach.
"It's tough. We did the best we could with what we had and that was the decision we reached. With more evidence, we might have had a different conclusion,” he said.
In 1986, Barbara Pelkey, 30, was found dead at R.S Moulding and Manufacturing in Wallingford, where she worked nights. Back then, there was no DNA evidence, but Stanislow said a series of coincidences led them to convict Ireland.
Now two decades later, with technology vastly improved, the Connecticut Innocence project worked with the state's attorney's office and Wallingford police to re-examine evidence. When the test results came back, Ireland was let go, 20 years into a 50-year prison sentence.
”If there had been DNA evidence in that time period, there never would have been a trial for him. He would have been immediately let go,” Stanislow said.
With Ireland's vindication, Wallingford police have a cold case on their hands and none of the original investigators on the case are still around. Investigators say they will apply 20 years of improved technology to find Barbara Pelkey's killer.
East Haven State Rep. Mike Lawlor, co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, immediately issued the following statement as reported in the New Haven Independent:
“This is yet another Connecticut example of an innocent person having spent two decades in prison for a very serious crime while an actual rapist and murderer has been roaming free since 1986. This is not acceptable. The legislature, working with the Advisory Commission on Wrongful Convictions, must determine whether any state laws need to change and whether the law enforcement community is using best practices in the investigation of cases in order to avoid wrongful arrests and convictions."
“Under a 2008 law, Mr. Ireland is eligible to apply for compensation for his wrongful conviction with the state claims commissioner, who will make recommendations for compensation to the legislature. I hope this can be done in time for the 2010 legislative session, which convenes in February.”
Ireland is the third convict freed in the past three years based on new DNA testing. Prosecutors have reopened the investigation into Pelkey's death.