News Releases

September 26, 2023: District Attorney Gascón Announces Exoneration of Man Wrongfully Convicted of Robbery, Kidnapping, and Sexual Assault

Media Relations Division
(213) 257-2000

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón today announced the exoneration and release from prison of Gerardo Cabanillas, who was wrongfully convicted of robbery, kidnapping, and sexual assault, among other crimes, in April 1996.

“Today, we acknowledge a grave injustice that has resulted in the unjust more than 28-year incarceration of Mr. Cabanillas.” District Attorney Gascón said. “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. We must collectively commit to doing better, to continuously improving our procedures, and to ensuring that every person who enters our legal system is afforded a fair and just process.

I’d like to thank the Conviction Integrity Unit’s prosecutors and investigators who worked to re-evaluate the evidence in Mr. Cabanillas’ case and conducted an exhaustive investigation to get to the truth. Today, we recognize the justice he deserves.”

“We are thankful to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for agreeing to a factual finding of innocence for Gerardo,” said Michael Semanchik, Executive Director of The Innocence Center. “This case highlights the importance of collaboration by all in pursuit of truth and justice, including innocence attorneys, students, investigators, and the government.

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

In 1996, Mr. Cabanillas was convicted by a jury of crimes including second-degree robbery, kidnapping, rape, and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 15 years to life, consecutive to a determinate term of 72 years and four months, in state prison for crimes he did not commit.

Mr. Cabanillas through his attorney, Alissa Bjerkhoel, of the California Innocence Project, submitted a claim with LADA’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) requesting a review of his case for factual innocence.

After a thorough review and investigation of both the evidence presented at trial and new evidence uncovered by Mr. Cabanillas and the CIU, the District Attorney’s Office lost confidence in the convictions of which Mr. Cabanillas was sentenced.

On September 21, 2023, CIU asked Judge William C. Ryan to vacate Mr. Cabanillas’ conviction, find him factually innocent, and permanently release him from prison.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan vacated the conviction and found Mr. Cabanillas factually innocent on the same date. After nearly three decades in prison, Mr. Cabanillas is now a free man.