Man Wrongfully Convicted of Robbery, Kidnapping, Sexual Assault Exonerated by Los Angeles County District Attorney Gascón

By Yenah Lee

LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced this week Gerardo Cabanillas’ exoneration and release from prison after Cabanillas spent more than 28 years in prison for crimes he was wrongfully convicted of many decades ago.

“We acknowledge a grave injustice that has resulted in the unjust more than 28-year incarceration of Mr. Cabanillas,” District Attorney Gascón stated.

Cabanillas was 18 years old when he was arrested on suspicion of second-degree robbery and sexual assault on a young woman in 1995. He was accused because of his involvement in another unrelated robbery nearby, and matched the victim’s description of her assailant.

Although Cabanillas did not commit the crime, he falsely confessed because he was promised by South Gate Detective Jack Lee Alirez he would be released on probation if he admitted to the crime.                  

However, instead of walking out on probation, Cabanillas found himself stuck in prison for nearly three decades of his life for a crime he did not commit.

“False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States,” said Alissa Bjerkhoel, Interim Director of the California Innocence Project (CIU) at California Western School of Law.

“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,” added Bjerkhoel.

Bjerkhoel became Cabanillas’ attorney after his case was submitted to the CIU in 2017. They worked together to submit a claim with the Los Angeles District Attorney Office (LADA)’s Conviction Integrity Unit to request a review of Cabanillas’ case under the reasoning of factual innocence.

The LADA’s Conviction Integrity Unit and Cabanillas closely reviewed the previously submitted evidence used during his trial and new evidence that was unearthed. Through this review, DNA evidence was used to find Cabanillas innocent. Additionally, the evidence revealed another suspect for the case, who was already in prison for his pending murder trial.

Following the evaluation of new and old evidence, the LADA’s Conviction Integrity Unit asked Judge William C. Ryan to annul Cabanillas’ conviction, find him factually innocent, and release him from prison on Sept. 21.

Abiding with the LADA’s Conviction Integrity Unit’s request, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan annulled Cabanillas’ conviction and found him factually innocent. Cabanillas is now a free man.

DA Gascón urged law enforcement to collectively and continuously commit to doing better, improving their procedures, and ensuring each individual who encounters law enforcement is given their right to a fair and just process.

“This case highlights the importance of collaboration by all in pursuit of truth and justice, including innocence attorneys, students, investigators, and the government,” asserted DA Gascón.

About The Author

Yenah Lee is a third year at UC Davis studying Sociology and Communications. After completing her undergraduate studies, she hopes to attend law school to pursue a career in either family or health law.

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