After 28 years in prison for rape and other crimes he falsely admitted to, California man freed

Advocates in Los Angeles County said Tuesday that a man who was imprisoned for over 30 years on charges of rape, kidnapping, and robbery has been found innocent and released.

The county district attorney’s office said in a statement that DNA testing assisted in Gerardo Cabanillas’ exoneration in the 1995 attack on a couple who were sitting in a parked car in the city of South Gate.

DNA Conviction Overturned
In this photo provided by The Innocence Center and the California Innocence Project, Gerardo Cabanillas waves from outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles after his release on Sept. 26, 2023.LAURENCE COLLETTI / LEGAL TALK NETWORK VIA AP

The Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA’s office reexamined Cabanillas’ case, and this week a court overturned his conviction, determined him to be factually innocent, and ordered his permanent freedom.

District Attorney George Gascón issued a statement in which he said, “We acknowledge a grave injustice that has resulted in the unjust more than 28-year imprisonment of Mr. Cabanillas.” “It has become clearly evident that a serious error was committed after careful reexamination of the material and a thorough assessment of the case by my office’s Conviction Integrity Unit. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Cabanillas for the injustice that occurred and the shortcomings of our criminal justice system. This case must be carefully considered as a sobering reminder that our criminal justice system is imperfect.

In 1996, Cabanillas was found guilty and sentenced to 28 years in jail. He admitted to being one of the two armed guys that approached the pair, drove the man away, and then raped the woman inside an abandoned house.

Two days later, an additional couple in a car in the same vicinity was robbed, according to the authorities.

The attacks’ victims were informed of Cabanillas’ confession and recognized him from photo lineups. The California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law, who represented Cabanillas, claims that they later stated their misgivings in court and claimed they had been coerced into making the identification.

The group said in a statement that DNA testing on the rape kit revealed two other people were responsible for the crime.

The Innocence Project said that although one individual eventually admitted to committing one of the crimes, no other suspects were ever detained.

Interim director Alissa Bjerkhoel said in a statement that “false confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States.” Police are allowed to make assurances of leniency in exchange for confessions, for example. That’s exactly what happened in this case, and Gerardo would have served the remainder of his life in prison if it weren’t for the DNA evidence.

“We are thrilled for Gerardo and his family that the truth has finally set him free,” she exclaimed.

According to the Innocence Project, Cabanilla confessed after a detective assured him he would only receive a probationary term and be allowed to return home if he confesses to the crime, according to CBS News Los Angeles.


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