Convicted of armed robbery in Los Angeles County, California, in 1957, Edward Echarria Avila was pardoned three months later by California Governor Goodwin Jess Knight.
On December 22, 1956, Sam Bravero, a used car salesman, was robbed and shot by a Hispanic man on his car lot in Los Angeles, California. Bravero survived the shooting. On January 7, 1957, police arrested Avila based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses to the crime, Gilbert Ayala and James MacKrell. These witnesses were shown 30 mug shots of possible assailants, but failed to identify anyone until a detective showed them a single photo of Avila. The photo was in the detective’s possession in relation to another case. After viewing Avila in a lineup, however, only one of the witnesses remained certain of the identification. Nonetheless, both witnesses and Bravero testified against Avila, and in June 1957, Avila was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to the maximum penalty of seven years to life in prison.
Three months later, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives E.D. Villines and A.W. Bright questioned a suspect in an unrelated case. During the interrogation, the suspect mentioned that the Bravero robbery was committed by a man known as “El Gato.” The detectives linked the moniker to Delbert Raul Wilson, who closely resembled Avila. Villines and Bright fingerprinted Wilson and found that the prints matched those found at the scene of the shooting. Eyewitnesses Ayala and MacKrell also identified Wilson during a new lineup. Wilson soon confessed to the crime. He also told police that he had coincidentally been held in the same jail cell as Avila and was aware that Avila was being charged with a crime he had committed.
On September 24, 1957, based on the new forensic evidence and the subsequent confession, Los Angeles District Attorney William B. McKesson and Assistant District Attorney Manley J. Bowler requested a full and immediate pardon for Avila. Avila, age 29, was pardoned by the governor of California after spending nine months in prison for a crime he did not commit.
- Sara Whitaker
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.