Daniel Saldana: California man who served 33 years in prison is released years after new evidence comes to light

Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Daniel Saldana, right, leaves the Los Angeles Hall of Justice with his attorney Mike Romano on Thursday.


A man has been released from prison after serving 33 years for a crime Los Angeles prosecutors now say he did not commit, after reviewing exonerating evidence revealed by another prisoner six years ago, the district attorney announced.

Daniel Saldana was sentenced to 45 years in prison after he and two others were convicted of attempted murder in a 1989 incident in which a group of six high school students were shot while driving, apparently mistaken for gang members, according to a Los Angeles news release. said District Attorney George Gascon’s office. Two of the students were injured.

But a review of the case this year “determines that Daniel Saldana is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted and spent 33 years in prison,” Gascón said at a news conference Thursday.

“I never lost hope,” Saldana said at the press conference. “I’m innocent, 100 percent, I’ve been saying it since day one,” she said.

The exoneration evidence was revealed during a 2017 parole hearing for one of Saldana’s co-defendants, Raúl Vidal, who told the parole board that not only was Saldana not involved in the shooting, he was not present at the time, Gascón said.

The new information had not been shared with Saldana or his attorney, Gascón said.

Vidal was granted parole and released because he was in the United States illegally. He was deported, according to Saldana’s attorney. Vidal has not been in contact with anyone related to the case since then.

It wasn’t until February that the California Board of Parole Hearings, which has had new members since 2017, presented Gascón’s office with the statement from the parole hearing.

“This information was clearly exculpatory information, which the prosecution was obligated to provide to Mr. Saldana or his attorney, but it was not provided. This failure to investigate this matter in 2017 cost Mr. Saldana an additional six years in prison,” Gascón said.

“This is overwhelming,” Saldana said Thursday. “I just knew that one day this was going to come. I’m so thankful and I just thank God, Jesus.”

Gascón blamed many people for the delay in justice, including the parole board and the prosecutor who attended the hearing “but apparently did nothing.” That deputy prosecutor is no longer in the office, Gascón said.

“Mr. Saldana, you have always maintained your innocence and I want to apologize to you once again, to you and your family for this failure,” the prosecutor said. “I know this will not bring back the decades you endured in prison, and I hope our apology be a small comfort to you as you begin your new life.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement that it is pleased the district attorney’s office has taken action on the case, noting that the board “maintains transparency by conducting hearings that include the presence and participation of the parties.” appropriate, including legal advice for the incarcerated person. and a representative of the Prosecutor’s Office.

“Daniel Saldana’s claims of innocence by his co-defendant were made in a setting with the Assistant District Attorney present, which made his office aware of these claims in 2017,” the department said. “Had the claims of innocence been made in a setting without the presence of the deputy district attorney, the Board would have been responsible for referring the matter to the prosecuting agency.”

Saldana will live and work with her family for the foreseeable future, her attorney Mike Romano, director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, told CNN.

Under California law, Saldana is entitled to compensation for being wrongfully convicted. “You have to determine exactly how much, but not an insignificant amount of money,” Romano said.

Romano described Saldana as “surprisingly not bitter or angry, but still a bit shaken up.” She is adjusting to life in the great outdoors, and during the last 10 days since her release, Saldana rode horses, went to the movies with her nieces and visited her mother in the hospital.

“He doesn’t feel angry. He feels lucky,” Romano said. “But he’s also incredibly heartbreaking and tragic at the same time.”