California man released from prison after serving 25 years on death row

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A 68-year-old man has been released from prison after serving nearly 25 years on death row.

Vicente Benavides was released from San Quentin State Prison on Thursday, after the California Supreme Court overturned his conviction for murder and rape. Local prosecutors said they would not re-try the case.

Leaving the prison on Thursday, Mr Benavides told reporters he was “very happy”.

The California native was convicted in 1993 of the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s nearly two-year-old daughter, Consuelo Verdugo.

According to a previous court decision, he told police that he had been babysitting the girl while her mother was at work, and that he briefly lost track of her. He found her outside, vomiting, and took her to the emergency room. She died a week later.

A forensic pathologist said at the time that the girl had died of anal injuries from being sodomised. Several doctors testified that the injuries were caused by sexual assault.

Nearly all of the professionals later recanted their testimony, with some of them saying they had not seen Consuelo’s full medical records at the time, according to the Supreme Court ruling. The records indicated there was no evidence of sexual assault at the time the girl was hospitalised.

It is unclear how Consuelo sustained her original injuries.

The Supreme Court overturned Mr Benavides’s conviction in a ruling last month.

“The evidence now shown to be false was extensive, pervasive, and impactful,” the court wrote.

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said in a statement that she would not retry the case. The change in the medical professionals’ opinions, she said, “would greatly undermine their testimony in any re-trial regarding the physical abuse the victim suffered”.

“Therefore, our professional and ethical standards require us to decline to retry a case when, upon objective review the facts, there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” she added.

Mr Benavides is the fourth person exonerated from California’s death row since 1980, and the 162nd person exonerated from the United States’ death row since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.