DNA testing leads to exoneration of man wrongfully convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault in LA

ByJeremy Harlan
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
DNA testing leads to exoneration of man imprisoned nearly 3 decades
After a man spent nearly three decades in prison for kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery convictions, new DNA testing has revealed he was innocent of those crimes, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said.

LOS ANGELES -- After a man spent nearly three decades in prison for kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery convictions, new DNA testing has revealed he was innocent of those crimes, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced.

Gerardo Cabanillas was exonerated last week, 28 years after he was accused of robbing a man and woman and kidnapping and sexually assaulting the woman in Los Angeles in 1995, Gascón said Tuesday.

"I stand here with you with a deep sense of responsibility as a district attorney to address a tragic miscarriage of justice and to celebrate the exoneration and release of prison of an innocent man," Gascón said during a news conference.

In January 1995, a man and woman were robbed at gunpoint by two men who also sexually assaulted the woman, the district attorney said. Days after the crime, Cabanillas, then 18, was arrested because he generally matched the description of one of the suspects, Gascón said.

"Mr. Cabanillas always maintained that on the date of his arrest, he was coerced by the investigating detective into giving a false confession with a promise that he would be released on probation," Gascón said.

Despite no physical evidence connecting Cabanillas to the crime, he was charged with 14 felony counts, according to Gascón.

Cabanillas insisted he was innocent throughout a trial but was ultimately handed a sentence that amounted to life in prison.

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In 2019, Cabanillas'lawyers from the California Innocence Project, a non-profit that works to free wrongfully convicted people from prison, filed a motion to have DNA evidence related to the 1995 sexual assault victim tested, the district attorney said. None of the DNA matched Cabanillas, he said.

"After a thorough review of all the evidence, including expert analysis of the purported confession and an interview with the sexual assault victim, we lost confident in the conviction in this case," Gascón said.

Cabanillas was conditionally released from a prison in May, according to the district attorney's office. He was permanently freed on September 21, when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated his conviction and found him factually innocent.

Alissa Bjerkhoel, the California Innocence Project's interim director, said the exoneration is "bittersweet."

"The righting of a wrong under these circumstances is deeply profound," Bjerkhoel said during the Tuesday news conference. "The colossal damage done because of this wrongful conviction cannot be measured. Gerardo has missed out on a lifetime in the free world."

Investigators with the district attorney's office have used the new DNA testing to identify a new suspect, who is in custody in connection with an unrelated killing, Gascón said.

Gascón said the man matched the suspect description and "had gone on to commit multiple serious felonies in the same area, including several rapes and murder."

"To you and your family, I offer our deepest apologies for the horrible injustice that was caused," Gascón told Cabanillas, who attended the news conference with his family but chose not to speak.

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