County of Conviction: Los Angeles
Convicted of: Robbery, Sexual Assault
Years Served: 28 Years
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Years Served: 27
On January 16, 1995, two armed men robbed Raul F. and Maria A., stole Raul’s car, kidnapped his girlfriend, Maria A., and sexually assaulted her in an abandoned house. Two days later, on January 18, 1995, an armed man robbed Ricardo S. and Maria L. and unsuccessfully attempted to steal Ricardo’s car.
A few days later, police arrested eighteen-year-old Gerardo Cabanillas because he very generally matched the description of the perpetrator. He found himself sitting in an interrogation room with a seasoned detective who had built a reputation of eliciting confessions from suspects. The detective accused Cabanillas of robbery, kidnap, and rape, but promised Cabanillas he would get only probation and could go home if he confessed. After many denials, Cabanillas finally confessed, but he did not go home as promised. Instead, the prosecution charged him with fourteen felony counts including robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, rape, and sodomy.
The prosecution’s case consisted of Cabanillas’s confession and problematic eyewitness identifications of the four victims. Police failed to find any physical evidence tying Gerardo Cabanillas to the crime. Maria A. and Raul F. had serious doubts about their identifications of Cabanillas’s photo from a six-pack lineup. They only committed to their identifications after the detective told them Cabanillas had confessed. Maria L. said she would not be able to make an identification of the person because she had not gotten a good look at him, but detectives
It would take two jury trials before the prosecution secured a conviction on almost all the counts. All the while, Cabanillas proclaimed his innocence and testified on his own behalf in both trials, denouncing the veracity of his confession and presenting alibi evidence that he was at home with his family at the time of the crimes. At trial, Maria A. failed to identify Cabanillas at either trial. Raul wavered on his identification, but commented, “I have seen cases like this that sometimes they are not correct.” Raul was right.
It would be over two decades before DNA evidence would definitively prove Cabanillas did not commit these crimes. Specifically, Maria A. testified her two attackers ejaculated in her. Post-conviction DNA testing on the sexual assault examination kit has revealed two contributors of sperm found on her, neither of which are Cabanillas. In addition, an expert on false confessions has determined Cabanillas’s confession has a “high probability” of being false. It was inconsistent with the facts and was primarily the product of police feeding him information and Cabanillas merely confirming it.
In December of 2022, the California Innocence Project submitted a petition to the Superior Court for Cabanillas’s release. The California Innocence Project is co-counseling Gerardo Cabanillas’s case with The Innocence Center.