After nearly three decades behind bars for charges of kidnapping, robbery, and rape, a man named Gerardo Cabanillas has been declared innocent and released, as announced by Los Angeles County prosecutors on Tuesday.
The breakthrough in Cabanillas’ case came through DNA testing, which helped clear his name in a 1995 assault case involving a couple in a parked car in South Gate, as stated by the county district attorney’s office.
The Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA’s office reevaluated Cabanillas’ case, and recently, a judge not only overturned his conviction but also officially declared him factually innocent, ordering his permanent release.
District Attorney George Gascón expressed profound regret, stating, “I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the failure of our criminal legal system.”
Cabanillas was initially convicted in 1996 and endured 28 years in prison. He had admitted to being one of two armed individuals who approached the couple, forced the man out of the vehicle, and transported the woman to an abandoned house where both assaulted her.
Two days later, another couple in the same area fell victim to a robbery, according to authorities.
The victims from these incidents were initially informed of Cabanillas’ confession and identified him from photo lineups. However, they later voiced uncertainties in court, claiming they were coerced into making the identifications. The California Innocence Project, which represented Cabanillas, revealed these doubts.
DNA testing conducted on the rape kit conclusively demonstrated that two different individuals were responsible for the assault, as confirmed by the organization.
Despite this new evidence, no other suspects were arrested, although one individual later confessed to committing one of the crimes, according to the Innocence Project.
Alissa Bjerkhoel, the interim director of the organization, highlighted the issue of false confessions in wrongful convictions, stating, “False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States.” She added that police are allowed to use deception when interrogating suspects, including making promises of leniency in exchange for confessions, which happened in Cabanillas’ case. She noted that without the DNA evidence, Cabanillas would have remained imprisoned for life.
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Bjerkhoel expressed elation for Gerardo Cabanillas and his family, emphasizing that the truth has finally set him free.