Daniel Saldana is from Los Angeles County, approximately 63 miles from Moreno Valley, and a 1-hour 3-minute drive. He is essentially a distant neighbor, a person just like us, and someone we should all be informed about. If you believe a loved one or someone you know is incarcerated wrongfully, his story may give you hope. In addition, every community should be aware of organizations created to help.
According to CNN and the Associated Press, Daniel Saldana, now 55, spent 33 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Convicted of opening fire on a car containing six teenagers leaving a high school football game in Baldwin Park, CA, he was one of three men charged with the attack. Two of those students inside the vehicle were wounded but fortunately survived. Authorities reported the attackers mistook the teens for gang members, resulting in the open fire.
Daniel Saldana was only 22 years old at the time of the shooting and worked full-time as a construction worker. Appearing in a press conference with District Attorney George Gascon announcing his dismissal on May 25, 2023, Saldana stated he was grateful to be freed. "It's a struggle, every day, waking up knowing you're innocent, and here I am locked up in a cell, crying for help. I'm just so happy this day came," an elated Saldana added.
District Attorney Gascon's office began investigating Mr. Saldana's case in February after learning that another convicted attacker told authorities during a 2017 parole hearing that Mr. Saldana "was not involved in the shooting in any way and he was not present during the incident." In addition to Gascon's statement, he added a former deputy district attorney was present at that 2017 hearing but apparently did nothing. The former deputy district attorney "failed to share the exonerating information with Saldana or his attorney as required," Gascon further stated.
This lack of sharing imperative information caused Saldana to spend an additional six years in prison before the District Attorney's office reopened the case, declaring him innocent. No details were disclosed; however, the District Attorney did apologize to Mr. Saldana and his family. "I know 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." In addition, Gascon added: "Not only is this a tragedy to force people into prison for a crime they did not commit, but every time an injustice of this magnitude takes place, the real people responsible are still out there to commit other crimes." According to CNN, during the press conference, Mr. Saldana stated, "I never lost hope, I'm innocent – 100 percent – I've been saying that from Day One. This is overwhelming," Saldana said Thursday. "I just knew that one day this was going to come. I'm just so grateful, and I thank God, Jesus."
It was not until February that the statement from the parole hearing was presented to Gason's office by California's Board of Parole Hearings, which since 2017 has new members.
Saldana will live and work with his family for the foreseeable future, his attorney Mike Romano, Stanford Law School's director of the Three Strikes Project, told CNN.
According to California law, Saldana is entitled to compensation for being wrongfully convicted. "It is to be determined exactly how much, but not an insignificant amount of money," Romano told CNN.
There are organizations available to you if you need to help a loved one who may have been wrongfully convicted. Although, Daniel Saldana's case and freedom were due to the District Attorney's office, organizations such as the Innocence Project work to free those wrongfully convicted. Their website states: The Innocence Project works to free the innocent, prevent wrongful convictions, and create fair, compassionate, and equitable justice systems for everyone. Our work is guided by science and grounded in anti-racism. The Innocence Project lists several wrongfully convicted people and now freed due to their work for justice.
The Stanford Law School Three Strikes Project is one of the Mills Legal Clinics at Stanford Law School. Founded in 2006, it provides legal representation to convicts serving life sentences under California’s three strikes law for committing minor, non-violent felonies. Under the supervision of clinic instructors, students represent clients in federal and state court. The Project is directed by attorney and lecturer Michael Romano. The Stanford Law School Three strikes Project pursues resentence hearings or constitutional challenges and is another avenue to reach out if you need help with a loved one’s conviction.
Wrongful convictions are tragic and devastate the lives of the convicted and their families. We are grateful for the outcome of Daniel Saldana and wish him the very best as he moves forward.
Please share this story to give hope to others and keep them aware if they need somewhere to reach out for help in a similar situation. Follow me on NewsBreak, and always try to find something positive daily.