A man convicted of robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault has been released from prison after 28 years after it was determined he was wrongfully convicted, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Last week, the conviction of Gerardo Cabanillas was vacated after evidence was reexamined by the DA’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit.
In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón called Cabanillas’ imprisonment a “grave injustice.”
“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,” Gascón said. “I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the failure of our criminal legal system.”
Cabanillas was convicted for 14 felony counts and sentenced to prison in April 1996. He was 18 years old at the time.
His original sentence was for 15 years to life in prison, in addition to a consecutive sentence for 72 years in prison.
The conviction was obtained through a false confession, Gascón said. No physical evidence was ever obtained, and his fingerprints did not match those collected from the scene. If not for DNA evidence that eventually proved him innocent, Cabanillas likely would’ve spent the rest of his life behind bars.
Alissa Bjerkhoel, interim director of the California Innocence Project and Cabanillas’ attorney, called false confessions one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the American justice system.
“Police are permitted to lie to suspects, including promises of leniency if the person confesses,” Bjerkhoel said. “That is exactly what happened here.”
Bjerkhoel submitted a claim with the Conviction Integrity Unit to request a review of his case for factual innocence. After “an exhaustive investigation” and a review of existing evidence, as well as new discovery, the DA’s Office “lost confidence” in his conviction.
Last week, the DA’s Office asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to vacate the conviction and grant his permanent release from prison on the grounds that he was factually innocent.
“It is imperative that we reflect upon this case as a stark reminder that our criminal legal system is not infallible,” Gascón said. “We must collectively commit to doing better, to continuously improving our procedures, and to ensuring that every person who enters our legal system is afforded a fair and just process.”