Gerardo Cabanillas: California man acquitted after nearly 3 decades in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault


After a California man spent nearly three decades in prison for kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery, new DNA testing shows he was innocent of those crimes, a prosecutor announced.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said Tuesday that Gerardo Cabanillas was acquitted last week 28 years after robbing a man and woman in Los Angeles in 1995 and then kidnapping and sexually assaulting the woman.

“I stand here with you with a deep sense of responsibility as a district attorney to address a tragic failure of justice and to celebrate the conviction and acquittal of an innocent man,” Gascón said during a news conference. ”

The district attorney said that in January 1995, a man and woman were robbed at gunpoint by two men who also sexually assaulted the woman. A few days after the crime, Cabanillas, 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 statement with the promise that he would be released on probation,” Gascón said.

According to Gascón, despite no physical evidence linking Cabanillas to the crime, he was charged with 14 felonies.

Cabanillas insisted that he was innocent during the trial, but he was ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment.

The district attorney said that in 2019, Cabanillas’ attorneys with the California Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to free wrongfully convicted people from prison, obtained DNA evidence related to a 1995 sexual assault victim. Filed a motion for trial. No DNA matched Cabanillas, he said.

“After a thorough review of all the evidence, including expert analysis of the alleged confession and an interview with the sexual assault victim, we have lost confidence in the conviction in this case,” Gascón said.

Gerardo Cabanillas waves outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles after his acquittal.

Cabanillas was conditionally released from 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.

Alyssa Bjarkhoel, interim director of the California Innocence Project, said the acquittal is “bittersweet.”

“It is too profound a wrong to right under these circumstances,” Bjarkhol said during Tuesday’s news conference. “The enormous damage caused by this wrongful conviction cannot be measured. “Gerardo missed out on living his entire life in the free world.”

District Attorney’s Office investigators have used new DNA testing to identify a new suspect, who is in custody in connection with an unrelated murder, Gascón said.

Gascón said the man matched the suspect’s description and “has committed a number of serious crimes, including multiple rapes and murders, in the same area.”

Gascón told Cabanillas, “I express my deepest regrets to you and your family for the terrible injustice that happened to them.”

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