DNA Evidence Frees Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for Almost 30 Years

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Close to three decades were wrongfully spent behind bars by a man from California after misidentification and faulty evidence linked him to crimes of kidnapping, robbery, and sexual assault. It was only last week, after new advancements in DNA testing, that the man, Gerardo Cabanillas, was vindicated, proving his innocence — a startling revelation that has shocked the legal community.

In 1995, a man and a woman were held at gunpoint, robbed, and the woman was sexually assaulted. Shortly after the crime took place, an eighteen-year-old Cabanillas was arrested on account of his resemblance to one of the suspects. The District Attorney at the time shrugged off his avowals of innocence; without any substantial evidence to link him to the crime, Cabanillas was slapped with 14 felony charges.

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Post his release, Cabanillas attested that the confession he gave was coerced through assurances of probation. Despite his constant affirmations of innocence during his trial, he was met with a sentence equivalent to life imprisonment.

In a fortunate turn of events, the California Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that works diligently to liberate the unjustly incriminated, entered the scene in 2019. A petition was filed by the organization to permit DNA testing of the evidence related to the 1995 sexual assault. No traces of Cabanillas’ DNA were found.

This discovery led to a complete overview of the case and the previous testimonies, impacting the high degree of reliability in the former conviction. Upon these findings, the District Attorney’s office determined that Cabanillas wasn’t merely legally innocent — he was factually innocent.

Cabanillas was provisionally released from prison in May and on September 21, saw permanent freedom when his indictment was annulled. This exoneration, however, was nothing short of “bittersweet” for Alissa Bjerkhoel, the interim director of the California Innocence Project — an immense wrong was righted, but the irrevocable damage because of this erroneous conviction had already been done.

In the wake of unfolding events, the DNA evidence has directed investigators towards a new suspect who is currently held in custody for an unrelated homicide. The District Attorney reflected that this individual fitted the initial suspect description and had committed several serious felonies, including multiple rapes and a murder, in the same area where the 1995 case occurred.

Regretfully offering his deep apologies to Cabanillas and his family, the District Attorney uttered a heartfelt acknowledgment of the horrendous miscarriage of justice that had transpired. As for Cabanillas, this grim chapter marked by gross injustice has closed, with a newfound freedom that he wouldn’t have seen for years to come.

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