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Wrongly convicted of raping and murdering a toddler, man freed after 25 years on death row

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A man was freed after 25 years on death row when his conviction was overturned. (Image source: KCBS video screenshot)

A man who spent 25 years on death row was freed Thursday after all charges against him in the 1991 death of a 21-month-old toddler were dismissed, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

Vicente Figueroa Benavides was convicted of the rape and murder of his girlfriend's young daughter, but the California Supreme Court overturned the conviction in March.

What's the story?

Benavides was arrested in 1991 and charged with sodomizing and murdering his girlfriend's daughter, Consuela Verdugo, while he was babysitting.

Benavides reportedly always maintained his innocence, but sat on death row for more than two decades until doctors who testified at his trial recanted their testimony.

The medical experts initially said the child's injuries could have been caused by rape, but now they say the child could not have been sexually assaulted, and that they didn't have all the evidence in 1993.

When Benavides and the child's mother, Estella Medina, took Consuelo to the hospital with critical injuries, the doctors initially thought they came from rape and beating. They were later determined to possibly be from attempts to save her life, such as insertion of a catheter and temperature taking

Still, it remains a mystery exactly how Consuelo was injured and killed that day, even though Benavides will go free. The court determined that there was "extensive evidence" that the child was injured while Benavides was taking care of her, but "in the absence of sexual assault, how those injuries might have been caused, and any motive for their infliction, is less than clear."

Newfound freedom

Benavides, now 68 years old, will receive re-entry services such as housing assistance and job training. Interviewed by media upon his release, he said he felt good, and he wanted to eat and drink some tequila.

"Those 27 years [of his life]...he lost a lot of things outside," said Jose Luis Figueroa, a relative, to KCBS-TV. "A lot of things that he missed, he's never going to get those things back."

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