Almost three decades in a California prison for sexual assault, kidnapping, and robbery with no end in sight for Gerardo Cabanillas. This wasn't a plan he was expecting in his life, and a new DNA test had proven that thought. He is completely innocent and now released.
His exoneration was last week, spending 28 years behind bars after being convicted of robbing a man and a woman and sexually assaulting the woman back in 1995 in Los Angeles, said District Attorney George Gascón.
“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.
Back in 1995, these two individuals were robbed at gunpoint by two people, men, that had sexually attacked the woman, later suspecting Cabanillas of the crimes who was 18 at the time. The reason was due to matching to 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.
There wasn't connecting evidence between him and the crime, yet he was charged with 14 counts that were all felonies.
His innocence was fought hard by himself and his team at the time, in the trial. He was sentenced to life in prison.
2019 became a year of change. Cabanillas' lawyers that were of the California Innocence Project, an organization that assists those whom are wrongfully convicted to becoming free, filed a motion to have DNA evidence related to the 1995 sexual assault victim tested, the district attorney said. The DNA tests showed no matches to Cabanillas.
“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.
He was conditionally released from prison back in May, according to the DA's office. The permanent decision of his freedom happened last week on Sept. 21, as a Los Angeles county judge had dismissed his conviction with founded his position as 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.
According to Gascón, the person who matched the suspect description was also known to have “committed 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.