A 55-year-old man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 33 years in California was released on Thursday. Daniel Saldana was 22 years old when he was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment in 1990 for attempted murder. After discovering that he was not guilty of the charge, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon facilitated his release.
As it happened, two gunmen shot ferociously at an oncoming car filled with students who just finished watching a high school football match in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. The gunmen said after their arrest that they mistook the car for that a rival gang. Two of the students in the car sustained serious injuries but they survived.
Saldana who was a 22-year-old construction worker at the time was roped into the case and hit with six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle. He was to spend 45 years in prison.
In 2017, one of the assailants told the authorities during a parole hearing that Saldana did not participate in the shooting and that he was not even present at the scene. A former deputy district attorney who attended the hearing was supposed to inform the imprisoned man or his attorney that he had been exonerated, but the attorney did no such thing, causing Saldana to spend another six years in prison.
In February, DA Gascon learned that Saldana had been exonerated six years ago but was still in prison. He reopened the case and the wrongfully convicted man was freed. Gascon apologized to the freed man for the error in the justice system and said it was a tragedy that people can be wrongfully imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.
“I know that this won’t bring you back the decades you endured in prison,” Gascón said at a press conference. “But I hope our apology brings some small comfort to you as you begin your new life. 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.”
Saldana said he was just happy to be alive. He said he knew that truth would prevail one day and that he would be a free man again.
“I’m just grateful to be alive every day,” he said. “Just every day waking up knowing that you’re innocent. You wake up and here I am, just locked up in a cell and crying out for help and not knowing the legal system or having the resources or money or anything like that. But I just knew this day was going to come.”
It is not known if Saldana would sue for compensation for 33 years of wrongful imprisonment. In 2021, Horace Roberts was awarded $11 million by the courts after spending 20 years in prison on wrongful charges that he killed his girlfriend in 1998. Roberts was from Riverside County, a neighboring county to Los Angeles County.