California Man Free After Wrongful 28-Year Imprisonment, DNA Clears Innocence

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Falsely imprisoned for three decades, California resident Gerardo Cabanillas walked free last week after new DNA tests corroborated his innocence in a case of kidnapping, sexual assault, and robbery that occurred in 1995, as declared by the Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

In a regrettable failure of justice, Cabanillas had endured 28 years of confinement following his indictment for these horrific crimes, which incorporated abducting and committing sexual assault on a woman in Los Angeles after robbing her and a man who was companioning her at the time.

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In a news conference, Gascón acknowledged the grave accountability of their unfortunate lapse, underscoring a poignant celebration to mark Cabanillas’s exoneration and release from incarceration. In the chilling winter of ’95, a woman and a man were violently robbed and the former sexually assaulted, leading the authorities to apprehend Cabanillas, who was only 18 at the time due to his resemblance to the rough description of one of the culprits.

Cabanillas claimed to have been unfairly coerced into a false confession by the detective presiding the case. Despite the lack of tangible evidence linking him to the heinous crimes, he faced charges of fourteen felonies, resulting in a severe punishment equivalent to lifetime imprisonment.

He consistently maintained his innocence through the length of the trial, with his legal representation from the California Innocence Project advancing a motion in 2019 for a reanalysis of the DNA evidence on record. This testing turned out to be the breakthrough that failed to associate any DNA from the case to Cabanillas.

An exhaustive review of all available evidence, inclusive of the questionable confession and an interaction with the victim of the assault, led to the crumbling of confidence in the previous conviction, as confessed by Gascón. As a result, in May, Cabanillas received a conditional release from the prison, while September 21st heralded his complete freedom as a Superior Court judge of Los Angeles County repealed his conviction, declaring his factual innocence.

The experience was understandably a bitter-sweet victory, in the words of Alissa Bjerkhoel, interim director of the California Innocence Project. According to her, the impact of such a grossly wrongful conviction was immense, and the losses Cabanillas had suffered were immeasurable.

Furthermore, the fresh DNA findings have directed investigators to a new suspect, presently jailed for an unrelated homicide. This individual seemed to match the initial description of the suspect and has subsequent offenses to his reckoning, including several instances of rape and murder.

Gascón, taking the opportunity to express his deep regret, commenced unreserved apologies to Cabanillas and his family for the horrifying injustice that they were subjected to. Despite being present at the news conference along with his family, Cabanillas decided to remain silent.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.