A man who spent more than three decades — more than half his life — in prison for a crime he didn’t commit was finally exonerated and released from state prison this week.
Daniel Saldana, 55, walked free 33 years after he was convicted of trying to murder a group of six high school students, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday.
“I’m just grateful to be alive every day,” Saldana said at a press conference.
Saldana was locked up in 1990, just months after he was pinned as one of the two gunmen who opened fire on students who were driving in Baldwin Park after a high school football game.
Two students were injured but survived their wounds.
Prosecutors believe the real gunmen mistook the students for gang members when they hailed bullets at the car.
Saldana — who was 22 years old and employed as a construction worker — was slapped with six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle and sentenced to 45 years to life in state prison.
The innocent man said the conviction was heartbreaking and that he spent every day in state jail “struggling.”
“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,” Saldana said.
Saldana’s path to freedom began in February when another convicted attacker told authorities during a 2017 parole hearing that Saldana “was not involved in the shooting in any way and he was not present during the incident,” Gascón said.
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, causing the innocent man to suffer an additional six years behind bars.
It was not immediately clear whether Saldana would be entitled to any compensation from Los Angeles or California for his lengthy prison stay.
In 2021, neighboring Riverside County settled a lawsuit and paid $11 million to Horace Roberts, who spent two decades in prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend in 1998.
Gascón didn’t disclose additional details on the case but offered his condolences to Saldana.
“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.”
“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.”
With Post wires