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After 28 years at liberty: Gerardo Cabanillas in front of the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles

Photo: Laurence Colletti / AP

28 years after his arrest and later conviction for robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault, a detainee in the US state of California has been declared innocent and released.

Accompanied by his family and lawyers, Cabanillas stood as a free man in the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

"Justice has taken a great deal of time to assert itself ... if we can even call it that at this point," said lawyer Alissa Bjerkhoel, who had represented Cabanillas. She works for the Californian Innocence Project, a group that advocates for those who may have been wrongly convicted.

Cabanillas was charged with armed robbery and an assault on a young woman in South Gate in 1995. He was 18 years old when he was arrested.

Cabanillas had suffered "serious injustice," said George Gascón, district attorney of Los Angeles, according to a statement. The legal system had failed in his case.

Persuaded to confess with false promises

Cabanillas had been sentenced to decades in prison. After his arrest, he had initially made a confession in police interrogations. The investigators had brought him with false promises that he would be released on parole, according to the Innocence Project.

According to the Los Angeles Times, lawyer Bjerkhoel said that the case had been handled problematically from the beginning. Thus, there was no concrete evidence linking Cabanillas to the case. Although the victim had selected Cabanillas from a series of six photos as the alleged perpetrator, he had never identified him in court.

The victim's partner said he identified Cabanillas only after a police officer showed him his photos and explained that the man had been caught and made a confession.

In the trial, Cabanillas maintained his innocence at the time, but was convicted. Now he has been exonerated with the help of DNA tests.