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California judge releases man who's been on death row for 26 years

Posted at 4:54 PM, Apr 19, 2018

BAKERSFIELD, California — A Kern County, California judge decided Thursday to set free a man who's been on death row for 26 years.

Vicente Benavides, 68, was freed from San Quentin Prison Thursday afternoon.

The judge said all Benavides' charges were changed to not guilty.  His defense attorney told KERO television station that Benavides will not have to return to Kern County.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Lisa Green made the announcement that her office would not file charges against Benavides, saying the case would be nearly impossible to retry in court. She said it would be very difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of Benavides' guilt.

According to a decision released by the California Supreme Court last month, the convictions of Vicente Benavides in 1993 "were based on false evidence and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel."

The decision also says that "false evidence was introduced at trial and that petitioner's convictions of substantive sexual offenses, special-circumstance findings, and judgment of death must be vacated."

Benavides was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder, rape, and other charges. He was sentenced to life. He was serving his term on death row in San Quentin. 

It was asked that his murder conviction be reduced to second-degree murder. That was also thrown out. 

The judgment has been vacated entirely. Benavides' defense attorney says his client's case is extremely rare, saying only two similar cases have occurred since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970's.

The California Supreme Court cited multiple doctors who evaluated 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo in November 1991 when she died. The baby was taken from the Delano Regional Medical Center to Kern Medical Center then eventually the UCLA Medical Center where she died November 25, 1991.

Multiple reports were made by doctors who said based on the inability to insert a catheter, bruising found near Consuelo's genitalia and other factors, they believed she had been sexually assaulted.