The last time Gerardo Cabanillas experienced a day of freedom, Bill Clinton was still in the White House. In 1996, he was sentenced to prison for robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault. Wrongfully so, as the public prosecutor in Los Angeles has only now admitted.

28 years after his arrest and 27 years after his conviction, the innocent prisoner has been released from prison in California. The legal system failed in this case, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón admitted in a statement. Through renewed consideration of the evidence and a comprehensive reassessment of the case, it became clear what a “serious injustice” had occurred.

Cabanillas was 18 years old when he was arrested in January 1995. He was accused of having committed two robberies with an accomplice. In one case, he was said to have stolen the man’s car and kidnapped and raped his girlfriend. In the second case, the attempt to steal a car failed. Cabanillas was arrested a few days after the crimes because he generally matched the description of the perpetrator.

During interrogations he initially denied the crimes. However, when he was promised that if he confessed he would only receive a suspended sentence, he admitted everything. However, this turned out to be a false promise. Although he protested again in court that he was innocent, Cabanillas was sentenced to a long prison term.

The evidence of his guilt presented during the trial was scant. The prosecution’s strategy was based on the statements of the victims who claimed to have identified Cabanillas, as well as his confession, which he made after false promises from investigators. And two victims only recognized Cabanillas as the perpetrator after they were told that he had confessed. There was no physical evidence of his involvement in the crimes.

Nevertheless, the jury found Cabanillas guilty in 1996. An alibi for the time of the crime, which the defendant presented, and the uncertainty of some witnesses were apparently unable to convince the jury members. It was not until more than two decades later that Gerardo Cabanillas received justice. The California Innocence Project advocated for his case to be reopened.

In 2019, a new investigation found that Cabanillas’ DNA did not match the genetic material associated with the crime. An expert on false confessions also concluded that the prisoner’s confession was “most likely” not authentic. It took another four years before Cabanillias was released.

Sources: California Innocence Project / CNN / Los Angeles District Attorney

Jeremy Meeks became famous with his mugshot in 2014. His police photo goes viral online as “the most beautiful prisoner in the world.” You can see his career and personal life to date in the video.