California man wrongly convicted for rape released after 28 years in prison: 'grave injustice'

A man who was wrongfully convicted of robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault in 1996 has been exonerated after spending nearly three decades in prison, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Tuesday.

Gerardo Cabanillas was 18 years old when he was arrested in 1995. The following year, he was convicted by a jury of crimes including second-degree robbery, kidnapping, rape, and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 15 years to life, consecutive to a term of 72 years and four months, in state prison for crimes he did not commit, Gascón said.

The case stemmed from the January 1995 armed robbery of a couple and the kidnapping and rape of a woman in an abandoned house.

A few days later, police arrested Cabanillas because he very generally matched the description of the perpetrator, according to the California Innocence Project.

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According to the CIP, detectives accused Cabanillas of robbery, kidnap, and rape, but promised him he would get only probation and could go home if he confessed. After many denials, Cabanillas finally confessed, but he did not go home as promised. Instead, the prosecution charged him with 14 felony counts including robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, rape and sodomy, the CIP said.

Cabanillas, through his CIP attorney, submitted a claim with the LADA's Conviction Integrity Unit requesting a review of his case for factual innocence. After DNA evidence definitively proved Cabanillas did not commit the crimes, the CIP submitted a petition in December to the Superior Court for the wrongfully convicted inmate's release.

After a thorough review and investigation of both the evidence presented at trial and new evidence, the District Attorney's Office lost confidence in the convictions of which Cabanillas was sentenced, Gascón said.

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On Thursday, Judge William C. Ryan vacated the conviction and found Cabanillas factually innocent. Cabanillas was set free.

"Today, we acknowledge a grave injustice that has resulted in the unjust more than 28-year incarceration of Mr. Cabanillas," Gascón said in a statement Tuesday.

"Upon thorough reexamination of the evidence and a comprehensive review of the case by my office's Conviction Integrity Unit, it has become abundantly clear that a serious error was made. I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the failure of our criminal legal system."