LPI Client Abraham Villalobos Declared Innocent

The Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI) is thrilled to announce that on March 6, 2024, client Abraham Villalobos was exonerated and declared factually innocent of the crime for which he was wrongfully convicted and spent 15 years in prison.  

LPI faculty, staff, students, and family members of Villalobos gathered at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center to hear the much-anticipated exoneration of Villalobos.

"This exoneration reinforces why we wanted to join the clinics in the first place," said Ava Hargett '25. "Just seeing the human impact of everything we are doing as clinical students is really exciting; also, seeing our professors in action is really cool as well."

Villalobos was convicted, along with his co-defendant Ronald Velasquez, of a fatal shooting that took place at an apartment complex in Downey, California, in September of 2000. In fact, neither Velasquez nor Villalobos were responsible for the shooting.  

The L.A. County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) received and developed new evidence pointing to the actual shooter, who confessed his role to a family member. This evidence also established that Villalobos was not even at the scene of the shooting when it happened and that Velasquez had no knowledge of the shooter’s plans or actions.  

In 2015, after serving 15 years in custody, Villalobos was granted parole but was deported to Mexico because of this conviction. Villalobos and his LPI team are hopeful this declaration of innocence will pave the way for him to see his family in California.  

“All of us at LPI are incredibly grateful to the CIU and District Attorney George Gascón for taking a careful and objective look at this case,” said Joe Trigilio, Judy and Steve Page Executive Director of LPI. “LPI welcomes these collaborations with the CIU to see justice done, and we were also inspired by the tenacious work of Mr. Velasquez’s lawyer and investigator, John Hanusz and Dana Orent, in developing with the CIU the new evidence that has exonerated these men.” 

Although Villalobos remains in Mexico and was unable to be present for his exoneration, he attended the hearing remotely. He expressed gratitude to witness this moment and celebrate with his family. “An inmate once told me that justice has no expiration date. Even if it took 23 years, it turns out he was right,” said Villalobos. 

The LPI team sends a special thanks to Brenda Lee, Martha Carrillo and Keri Modder (ret.) of the Conviction Integrity Unit of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. “Their tireless work made this outcome possible,” said Trigilio.

The Loyola Project for the Innocent (LPI) at LMU Loyola Law School pursues claims of actual innocence on behalf of those wrongfully convicted of crimes. LPI is the only law school wrongful conviction clinic dedicated to serving Los Angeles County, the leading county in felony convictions in California since 1989. Including Villalobos, LPI has welcomed home 18 clients, who collectively served 440 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Learn more at www.lls.edu/ProjectfortheInnocent.