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DNA results could clear Canton man from 1996 rape case

Posted at 9:28 PM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 23:09:22-05

CANTON, Ohio — Eric Brunner served 13 years for a 1996 rape he insists he didn't commit. DNA results obtained 23 years later may prove his innocence.

Brunner hopes his name will be be cleared after the Ohio Innocence Project requested DNA testing, which was granted by a Stark County Judge.

The results, which were delivered to the prosecutor's office this week, revealed that Brunner was excluded as a possible contributor. In other words, his DNA was not a match to the rape kit.

"I've been telling them for over 20 years now, for about 24 years, I've been telling people I didn't do it. It wasn't me," Brunner told News 5.

Brunner believes it was a case of mistaken identity that forever changed his life. He was accused and convicted of raping one woman and the attempted rape of another inside a dark home in the early morning hours of Jan. 14, 1996.

Brunner admitted he knew the women, but always maintained he did not commit the crimes.

However, the case went to trial and Brunner was convicted of rape and attempted rape. He was sentenced to 14 to 40 years in prison.

"It was horrible. I'm trying to fight, get out of there and then going through there, the pressures of being in prison on a rape charge, it's terrible," he said.

In 2009, Brunner was paroled after 13 years behind bars. Two years later, he said he was viciously attacked inside a bar by relatives of one of women from the 1996 incident.

"I'm on the ground getting punched and kicked on the face. The whole left side of my face was fractured," Brunner said. He reported the beating to Canton police, but no one was charged.

Brunner's life has remained a struggle over the past 10 years. He has trouble landing a job because of his criminal record. He does odd jobs at a motel in exchange for small room to live in. He notices people smile in front of him, but then talk negatively about him behind his back.

He's also required to register his address every 90 days because he was labeled by the court as a sex offender.

"I dread going up there to register. I always feel like I shouldn't have to be here and I always tell the sheriffs at the office, 'I'm innocent.' I say, 'One day, you'll see my name will be cleared.'"

Brunner recently got the news he has been waiting two decades to hear through a phone by his attorney, Brian Howe, from Ohio Innocence Project.

"The DNA proved my innocence," Brunner said. "I want to get the truth out and the truth is out now."

Howe plans to file a motion for a new trial. If granted, the conviction would be vacated. Howe hopes that prosecutors would then dismiss the original charges against Brunner.

"I can finally have peace. I've been through so much because of this ordeal," Brunner said.

The Stark County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the new evidence or the case.

"No motions have been filed at this time," said Dennis Barr, the assistant chief prosecutor.