Man wrongly convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery exonerated after 28 years in prison

Gonzalo Jimenez

(CNN) – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Tuesday the exoneration of Gerardo Cabanillas, a man who had been imprisoned for more than 28 years following a 1996 conviction for kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery.

“I am here with you with a deep sense of responsibility as district attorney to address a tragic miscarriage of justice and celebrate the exoneration and release from prison of an innocent man,” Gascón said during Tuesday’s press conference.

On January 16, 1995, a man and a woman were robbed at gunpoint by two men, and the woman was also sexually assaulted, according to Gascón. Days later, Cabanillas, then 18, was arrested by police because he generally matched the description of one of the two suspects, he said.

Gascón said no physical evidence was collected linking Cabanillas to the crimes, but he was convicted of 14 felony counts, in part due to a forced confession by law enforcement interrogators. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, consecutive to a certain term of 72 years and four months in a California state prison, he said.

In 2019, Cabanillas’ attorneys from the California Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to release wrongfully convicted people from prison, filed a motion to have DNA testing performed at the crime scene.

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“Thanks to the arrival of DNA and the hard work of everyone involved in this case, we now know the truth that Mr. Cabanillas had absolutely nothing to do with these crimes,” said Michael Semanchik, executive director of the Innocence Project. California.

After DNA testing showed Canillas did not commit the sexual assault, Gascón said his office took steps to overturn the conviction.

“Our Conviction Integrity Unit investigators subsequently located an interview with another individual who matched the description of the perpetrator and had committed multiple serious crimes in the same area, including several rapes and murders. “After a thorough review of all the evidence, including expert analysis of the alleged confession and an interview with the sexual assault victim, we lost confidence in the conviction in this case,” Gascón said Tuesday.

Cabanillas was conditionally released from state prison on May 16, according to the district attorney’s office. On September 21, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan vacated the conviction, found Mr. Cabanillas factually innocent, and permanently released him from prison.

“To you and your family I offer our most sincere apologies for the horrible injustice that was caused,” Gascón told Cabanillas, who attended the press conference with his family but preferred not to speak.

Gascón told reporters Tuesday that one of the likely attackers is believed to be serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder conviction and that the identity of the second suspect is unknown.

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