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District Attorney's office decides not to seek new trial for man on death row for decades

Posted at 3:58 PM, Apr 17, 2018

The Kern County, California District Attorney's Office has decided not to file charges against a man who was on death row for more than two decades, setting him free.

Lisa Green made the announcement on Tuesday, 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. 

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 off the inability to insert a catheter, bruising found near Consuelo's genitalia and other factors, they believed she had been sexually assaulted.

In the report put out by the California Supreme Court, many of those doctors then admitted later they were wrong in their initial assumptions and those issues "can instead be attributed to medical intervention," like multiple attempts at inserting a catheter.

Speaking on behalf of Benavides’s post-conviction legal team after the conviction was lifted, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center’s Interim Executive Director, Michael J. Hersek said he and his team were pleased with today's decision.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has reversed Mr. Benavides’s conviction and death sentence. Mr. Benavides has spent over 24 years on death row and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. We are hopeful that the Kern County District Attorney will dismiss all charges against our client soon after the Supreme Court’s decision becomes final. Until then we will have no further comment on this matter."

Robert F. Carbone was the prosecutor on the case in the 90's and tells 23ABC he respects the Supreme Court's decision but personally still believes Benavides to be guilty.

"I believe that he's guilty and that he's a danger to children," said Carbone.