Man freed on technicalities after five years

SAN MATEO — A local man has been exonerated after spending five years in prison on charges that he sexually assaulted a woman.

Russell Pliego, 29, was convicted in 2001 of six counts of forcible sex after a woman accused him of assaulting her in Benicia in March of that same year. Pliego, originally sentenced to 14 years in prison, was released from prison last month after a Solano County Superior Court judge vacated all charges against him, according to Pliego’s attorney, Gary Dubcoff.

In the writ of habeas corpus Dubcoff filed in October of 2005, he argued that Pliego was found guilty in part due to the incompetence of his original attorney, the late John Randolph, a friend of the Pliego family.

“He convinced the family that he was competent to handle a serious felony, but he was in way over his head,” Dubcoff said.

Prosecuting attorneys called one expert witness, a nurse who examined Pliego’s alleged victim and argued that she was undoubtedly sexually assaulted. However, the nurse was not cross-examined, said Dubcoff.

The testimony of two new doctors this year helped clarify that nurse’s original testimony. “They were aghast that anybody could purport to infer anything about consent from [the nurse’s] observations. They said there’s no scientifically valid methodology to do that, and the original jury never knew that,” Dubcoff said.

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