A California man who spent 33 years in prison for attempted murder has been declared innocent and freed.
Daniel Saldana, 55, was convicted in 1990 of opening fire on a car containing six teenagers who were leaving a high school football game in Baldwin Park, east of Los Angeles. Two students were wounded but survived.
The attackers mistook the teens for gang members, authorities said.
Saldana was 22 at the time of the shooting and worked full-time as a construction worker. He was one of three men charged with the attack. He was convicted on six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle and was sentenced to 45 years to life in state prison.
But in February, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office learned that another convicted attacker had told authorities during a 2017 parole hearing that Saldana was not involved in the shooting in any way, and that he wasn’t even present during the incident.
A former deputy district attorney was present at the hearing “but apparently did nothing” and failed to share the exonerating information with Saldana or his attorney as required, said George Gascón, the district attorney, on Thursday.
That caused Saldana to spend an additional six years in prison before the district attorney’s office reopened the case and declared him innocent, Gascón said.
Saldana appeared with Gascón at a press conference announcing his exoneration Thursday. “It’s a struggle, every day waking up knowing you’re innocent and here I am locked up in a cell, crying for help,” Saldana said, according to the Southern California News Group.
“I’m just so happy this day came,” he added.
Mike Romano, chair of the governor’s committee on the revision of the penal code, who has been assisting Saldana in the exoneration process, said that Saldana had been denied parole at least six times, largely because he refused to admit guilt, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The district attorney did not disclose other details of the case, saying his office was still investigating who was responsible for the wrongful conviction. He also declined to name the prosecutor who took no action after the 2017 hearing, but said the individual no longer worked for the office.
Gascón apologized to Saldana and his family: “I know that this won’t bring you back the decades you endured in prison. But I hope our apology brings some small comfort to you as you begin your new life.”
Gascón added: “Not only is this a tragedy to force people into prison for a crime they did not commit, but every time that an injustice of this magnitude takes place, the real people responsible are still out there to commit other crimes.”
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