Wrongly accused MB murder suspect awarded $1.5 million

by Paul Teetor
Published September 17, 2009

Herbie Gonzalez’ long legal nightmare is over. But the question of who committed the April 11, 2005, arson murder of 39-year-old Manhattan Beach housekeeper Libia Cabrera remains unresolved.

Last week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.25 million settlement with the Salvadoran immigrant who was arrested more than three and a half years ago and coerced into confessing to the Manhattan Beach rape/murder.

“I can’t believe they finally let go of me,” Gonzalez said in his first public comments since the settlement. “Now everyone will know I am not a rapist or a murderer and that it was all something the Sheriffs made up because they thought I was the guy that did it….once they decide you’re the guy, they’ll do whatever they have to do to get a conviction.”

Gonzalez’ harrowing, six-month journey inside the California justice system was reported last year in a two-part, Easy Reader series titled “The Wrong Man.” The story recounted how undercover Sheriffs dressed as street thugs ran Gonzalez off the road and yanked him out of his car. His arrest was followed by hours of interrogation without a proper Miranda warning; false promises of leniency if he would admit to being outside the murder house; and finally a coerced confession, which Gonzalez immediately retracted.

Judge Cary Nishimoto threw out the confession just moments before Gonzalez’ criminal trial was to start in July 2006. After the state admitted it had no other evidence, Gonzalez walked out of court a free man.

“If that trial had gone on, I might be sitting on death row right now,” he said. “That judge is a hero….it just seemed like I was on the fast track to a frame job till he came along.”

Despite the large settlement, there was no evidence of remorse or lessons learned from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The case resulted in no changes to a crucial LASD policy — they still don’t require that murder interrogations be recorded from the moment they start. Nor did they issue an apology to Gonzalez.

Nor have the two detectives responsible for the charges against Gonzalez been reprimanded. Det. Randy Seymour just retired with a pension, and Det. Kathleen Gallagher is still working on the case.

The Sheriff’s Department has offered no explanation for why they kept pursuing Gonzalez even after they charged another man - Milton Gallardo — in Oct. 2007 with the murder on the basis of a match to the DNA left on the victim. Gallardo is currently in prison on an unrelated charge and is waiting for a date to be set for his murder trial. ER