Los Angeles County prosecutors announced on Tuesday that a man who had been imprisoned for almost three decades on charges of kidnapping, robbery, and rape has been declared innocent and released.
Los Angeles (AP) – DNA testing has played a pivotal role in exonerating Gerardo Cabanillas, who had been wrongfully convicted in connection with a 1995 attack on a couple inside a parked car in South Gate. The County District Attorney’s office officially confirmed this development.
After a thorough reevaluation of Cabanillas’ case by the Conviction Integrity Unit within the District Attorney’s office, a judge recently made the decision to reverse his conviction, declaring him factually innocent and ordering his immediate release.
District Attorney George Gascón expressed profound regret, stating, “I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.”
Cabanillas had been convicted in 1996 and endured 28 years of imprisonment. He had confessed to being one of two armed individuals involved in the attack, which had involved forcing the male victim out of the vehicle and taking the female victim to an abandoned house, where both were sexually assaulted. Another couple in the same vicinity fell victim to a robbery just two days later, according to authorities.
Initially, the victims of these attacks identified Cabanillas based on his confession and photo lineups. However, they later raised doubts during court proceedings, asserting that they had been coerced into making the identification. The California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law, which represented Cabanillas, revealed that DNA testing on the rape kit conclusively indicated the involvement of two other individuals in the assault.
Despite the confession of one man in connection with one of the crimes, no other suspects were ever arrested, as disclosed by the Innocence Project.
Alissa Bjerkhoel, the interim director of the Innocence Project, emphasized the prevalence of false confessions as a leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. She pointed out that law enforcement can employ deception, including making promises of leniency, to elicit confessions, which was the case here. If not for the crucial DNA evidence, Gerardo Cabanillas would have spent the remainder of his life behind bars.
Bjerkhoel also expressed joy for Gerardo and his family, remarking, “We are thrilled for Gerardo and his family that the truth has finally set him free.”