In California in 1991, Vicente Benavides took his eyes off the young child he was babysitting for a few moments, and next thing he knew, he was being sentenced to death for raping and murdering her.
Now, after nearly a quarter of a century, he is being released from death row after it was determined that medical professionals gave false testimonies during the trial, which led to his conviction. A free man for the first time in 25 years, Benavides won’t have to face a retrial.
If you’d like to see footage from his release and learn more about his exoneration, check out the video below:
Benavides, now 68-years-old, says he was babysitting 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo and her nine-year-old sister while their mother, who was also his common-law partner, was at work.
He claims he took his eye off Consuelo for about 15 minutes. When he found her, he says he does not know exactly what happened but she was outside, unconscious and injured with severe injuries to her abdomen.
She was rushed to the hospital where it was determined she had massive internal damage to her body. Sadly, she died from her injuries a week later.
At the time, he and his girlfriend told hospital staff that she fell and hit her head. However, a forensic pathologist claimed that Consuelo had been sodomized and died as a result of anal injuries. Benavides was quickly arrested and charged with rape and murder.
Several doctors testified during the trial, claiming that Consuelo’s injuries were consistent with those acquired through a violent sexual assault. However, nearly 25 years later, those doctors have now recanted their testimonies, revealing they hadn’t even seen Consuelo’s full medical records.
Benavides conviction was overturned with the help of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and now District Attorney Lisa Green has said, “Upon an objective review of the facts, there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“The change in opinion of the majority of medical personnel involved in the case would greatly undermine their testimony in any retrial regarding the physical abuse the victim suffered,” she continued.
The California Supreme Court also issued a statement: “The evidence now shown to be false was extensive, pervasive, and impactful.”
However, no one knows what actually did cause Consuelo’s injuries and eventual death, although Dr. Astrid Heger, a child abuse expert, said that her injuries were more consistent with those found after being hit by a car than those inflicted during a rape.
Still, not everyone is convinced of Benavides’ innocence.
Consuelo’s older sister was upset by Benavides’ release and firmly believes that he is responsible for her sister’s death.
In the state of California, over 200 people have been wrongfully convicted of serious offenses such as rape or murder, and only four have been exonerated from death row since 1980. California has the highest number of death row inmates at 750, though has only executed 13 since 1978.
Surely Benavides has a lot of catching up to do, and it was reported that his release from prison was very emotional. He was surrounded by his legal team who had worked tirelessly for decades to prove his innocence, and he took selfies with loved ones while he wiped tears from his face.