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Utah man exonerated of rape decades later wants public, courts not to rush to judgment

Chris Wickham speaks at a press conference at the University of Utah on Friday. He was wrongfully convicted of raping a teenage girl decades ago but was recently declared innocent of all charges. Photo: Kelli Pierce

SALT LAKE CITY – The innocent man who was falsely convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl is speaking out days after he was cleared of the crime.

Chris Wickham was accused of attacking the girl during a birthday party at his home in Salt Lake City in 1996. However, he was being treated at the hospital after getting into a car accident at the time of the assault.

His airtight alibi was not really mentioned in court, his defense lawyer possibly unaware the hospital paperwork had time stamps.

Wickham had appealed his case several times, including to the Utah Supreme Court, but remained in prison.

He was paroled in 2011, but the conviction was not overturned, forcing him to register as a sex offender.

“A lot of people think that it won’t ever happen to you, which I actually said before this happened,” Wickham told reporters during a press conference on Friday at the University of Utah.

In 2013, the Utah State Parole Board reduced his convictions to third-degree felonies after they reviewed his hospital records.

In 2014, the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center took up his case, and he was declared innocent of all charges this week.

Wickham wants to use this experience to remind the courts not to rush to judgment, even in highly charged cases.

“A lot of people have been convicted on someone saying that something happened, and it wasn’t actually what happened. I’m not saying that there are not guilty people out there because there [are], but make sure they are,” Wickham says.

He says he had met his accuser briefly at the party, but had taken off with his friend to grab some snacks when they got into an accident.

Wickham told reporters that he’s an evangelical Christian who does not hold animosity towards anyone, but he regrets not being able to see his children grow up.

He also wants change.

“The system…there was a lot of opportunities they had to make this right, and they didn’t,” Wickham says.

He’s been awarded $615,960 in restitution by the state.

Co-defendant Danny Pliego, who pleaded guilty to an amended charge of unlawful sexual intercourse, later vouched for Wickham’s innocence.