Alejandro Hernandez, tried three times and sent to death row once in the slaying of a 10-year-old girl, walked out of court a free man Friday after prosecutors dropped the charges.
Watching bitterly were Tom and Patricia Nicarico, who saw the case against three men charged in their daughter's killing fall apart amid allegations of perjured police testimony, misconduct by prosecutors and another man's increasingly credible confession.
Jeanine Nicarico was home sick from school, alone in the house, when she was abducted on Feb. 25, 1983. Her body was found two days later; she had been raped and bludgeoned.
Hernandez and two other men were charged a year later with murder, rape and abduction.
The slaying has resulted in at least five trials, but a man who claims he killed Jeanine, convicted sex killer Brian Dugan, has never been charged in the case.
Charges were dismissed against one man, Stephen Buckley, after his trial ended in a hung jury. But prosecutors pressed on against Hernandez and Rolando Cruz, even though no physical or eyewitness testimony linked either to the crime.
Hernandez, 32, was convicted twice, sentenced to death one time and to 80 years in prison the other. Both convictions were overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. A third trial resulted in a hung jury.