Delano man who spent decades on death row files lawsuit against Kern County

Kern County's Questionable Conviction
Kern's Questionable Conviction: Vicente Benavides

Kern’s Questionable Conviction: Vicente Benavides

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KGET) — A Delano man who spent 25 years on death row before the California Supreme Court overturned his conviction has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Kern County, the city of Delano and others.

Vicente Benavides was convicted of raping and killing a 21-month-old girl and sentenced to death in 1993 “based on false medical evidence presented at his trial and coercion of key witnesses by law enforcement officials,” his attorneys said Wednesday during a Los Angeles press conference.

Last March, the California Supreme Court, in vacating his conviction, noted medical experts who testified at Benavides’ trial had since recanted their testimony.

In their ruling, the justices found “false evidence” was introduced during the 1993 trial. The District Attorney’s office, following the court’s decision, dismissed the murder charge against him and Benavides was released.

He became one of the few people in the state’s history to leave death row alive.

“Mr. Benavides is a walking miracle, having been released after spending nearly 25 years on death row as an innocent man,” said attorney Salomon Zavala. “His death highlights how the death penalty in California is a broken system.”

The lawsuit filed in Fresno by attorneys Zavala, Ron Kaye, Barry Litt and Do Kim says jurors were told Benavides had raped the girl and the sexual assault is what caused the fatal injuries.

But medical experts weren’t given all of the child’s medical records before making a diagnosis, the suit says, which is significant because the girl was treated at three different hospitals.

Doctors at the second hospital noted signs of sexual abuse, but doctors at the first hospital did not. Upon reevaluation of the case, the state’s own medical experts found what they initially thought were signs of rape were actually caused by invasive medical procedures in an effort to try and save the girl’s life.

The suit alleges “medical evidence was falsified and exculpatory medical evidence was withheld. Lay witnesses and medical personnel were tainted with the state’s theories of rape and sodomy during interviews and the investigation.”

For KGET’s extensive coverage on Benavides’ questionable conviction, click here.

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