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Man who served nearly 25 years on death row is suing Kern County

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Posted at 9:41 AM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 13:53:20-04

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — It was 14 months ago when Vicente Benavides walked out of San Quentin prison a free man after spending over two decades behind bars. Now, according to his attorney, he's filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Kern County and law enforcement officials.

On Wednesday, Benavides and his civil rights attorneys held a presser at the First Street Courthouse in Los Angeles to announce the filing. Benavides says he endured pain and suffering as an innocent man forced to survive on death row for the heinous crime of sexually abusing a 21-month-old girl.

Benavides was convicted in 1993 of first-degree murder and sexual assault of his girlfriend's daughter. Initially, a forensic pathologist concluded that the girl died from injuries from being sodomized, and several doctors testified that the girl's injuries were caused by sexual assault.

Benavides was sentenced to life and was serving his term on death row in San Quentin. In 2018, nearly all of the health officials recanted their statements saying they hadn't seen the little girl's full medical records that indicated there was no evidence of sexual assault when she was first hospitalized. Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green later announced that prosecutors wouldn't retry Benavides for first-degree murder and wouldn't pursue a conviction for second-degree murder.

In the suit filed on Wednesday, Benavides and his attorneys say that Kern County, the City of Delano, four law enforcement officials, the prosecuting district attorney and a county forensic pathologist wrongfully imprisoned him for a crime he did not commit based on false medical evidence presented at his trial and coercion of key witnesses by law enforcement officials.

In a new release one of Benavdes' civil rights attorney stated:

While he was grieving the loss of this little girl who evidence shows was likely struck by an automobile while playing outside her apartment, representatives of the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, the Coroner’s Office, Child Protective Services and the Delano Police Department deliberately ignored transparent evidence of Mr. Benavides’ innocence and rushed to judgment to wrongfully convict this innocent man.

Although Benavides reportedly received reentry services following his release, his family successfully raised over $10,000 through a GoFundMe used to help him get back on his feet.

You can read Benavides' full lawsuit below: