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DNA evidence clears Santa Rosa man of 5-year-old girl's sexual assault

A Santa Rosa man accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl and jailed for seven weeks was freed Thursday after DNA test results pointed to his roommate.

Prosecutors dropped all charges Thursday against Gabriel Sanchez-Cardenas, 41, who was facing possible life imprisonment for the Dec. 23 assault that occurred during a sleepover at his apartment.

The victim, who had been invited to stay the night with her brother by Sanchez-Cardenas' two sons, identified the father as her attacker. He was arrested the next day and has been awaiting trial in Sonoma County jail ever since.

But on Thursday, prosecutors said DNA found on the girl's underwear matched samples taken from Sanchez-Cardenas' roommate, Jose Paz-Gonzalez, 37. He was arrested and charged with the assault.

Sanchez-Cardenas was freed Thursday afternoon. He always maintained his innocence, his lawyers said.

"We are beyond excited and thrilled that the system ultimately worked," said Melissa Coughlin, a deputy public defender. "From the beginning, I said he didn't do this."

District Attorney Jill Ravitch confirmed Sanchez-Cardenas had been cleared. She said her office followed the evidence to its proper conclusion.

"I think the course this case has taken underscores the fact that what we do is search for the truth," Ravitch said.

Paz-Gonzalez, who could have testified at a March preliminary hearing, was picked up by police Wednesday. He made statements to officers that sounded like a confession, Coughlin said.

Early in the investigation, Paz-Gonzalez told police he had taken a sleep aid that night and didn't notice anything unusual. The girl said the attack occurred on the couch in the living room Paz-Gonzalez was renting from Sanchez-Cardenas.

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