A man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for rape, kidnapping and robbery has been declared innocent and freed, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced Tuesday.
DNA testing helped exonerate Gerardo Cabanillas in a 1995 attack on a couple sitting in a parked car in the city of South Gate, the county district attorney's office said in a statement.
Cabanillas' case was reexamined by the Conviction Integrity Unit of the DA's office, and last week a judge reversed his conviction, found him factually innocent and ordered his permanent release.
"We acknowledge a grave injustice that has resulted in the unjust more than 28-year incarceration of Mr. Cabanillas," District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "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. I extend my deepest apologies to Mr. Cabanillas for the miscarriage of justice and the failure of our criminal legal system. ... It is imperative that we reflect upon this case as a stark reminder that our criminal legal system is not infallible."
Cabanillas was convicted in 1996 and spent 28 years in prison. He confessed to being one of two armed men who approached the couple, forced the man out and drove the woman to an abandoned house where both raped her.
Another couple in a car in the same area were robbed two days later, authorities said.
Victims of the attacks were told of his confession and identified Cabanillas from photo lineups. But they later expressed doubts in court and said they were pressured into identifying him, according to the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law, which represented Cabanillas.
DNA testing on the rape kit showed that two other people committed the assault, the group said in a statement.
No other suspects were ever arrested, although one man later confessed to committing one of the crimes, the Innocence Project said.
"False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States," interim director Alissa Bjerkhoel said in a statement. "Police are permitted to lie to suspects, including promises of leniency if the person confesses. That is exactly what happened here and, if it was not for the DNA evidence, Gerardo would have spent the rest of his life in prison."
"We are thrilled for Gerardo and his family that the truth has finally set him free," she said.
The Innocence Project said Cabanilla confessed after a detective told him he would only get be sentenced to probation and would get to go home if he admitted to the crime, CBS News Los Angeles reports.
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