Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday that a California man who spent 33 years in prison for attempted murder has been exonerated and released.
Danny Saldana appeared with his family and the DA at the press conference where his exoneration was officially announced. He said 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,” the now 55-year-old Saldana said, according to the Southern California News Group.
“I’m just so happy this day came,” he added.
Saldana stood trial for attempted murder after six high school students returning home from a high school football game in the same car on October 27, 1989, were shot at when young men mistook the students for gang members and opened fire, injuring two.
In 1990, Saldana and two other suspects were charged with six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle. Saldana was convicted of all charges and sentenced to 45 years to life in prison.
At the time, the 22-year-old Saldana was employed as a construction worker. The DA didn’t specify how Saldana was linked to the investigation.
Saldana always maintained that he was innocent.
Then, in February of this year, the District Attorney’s office was notified that another man convicted in the shooting told officials during an August 2017 parole hearing that Saldana had nothing to do with the shooting, and wasn’t even at the scene.
However, neither the DA, Saldana, nor Saldana’s lawyer were notified of this exonerating information.
“Six years ago, prosecutors and law enforcement, not only in this office, but at the Board of Parole hearings, knew of exonerating material that would end up freeing Danny, yet did nothing,” Saldana’s lawyer Mike Romano said.
“We know this material is so important and so critical that within weeks of receiving the same material, the new District Attorney, DA Gascón, and his team, were able to fully exonerate Danny.”
Romano also thanked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for bringing the six-year-old report of the parole hearing to light.
During the press conference, Gascón lauded his team for their “creative and expeditious” efforts to speed up Saldana’s exoneration efforts.
“Not only is it 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 out there to commit more crimes,” he said.
The DA also apologized to Saldana and his family.
“I know that this won’t bring you back the decades you endured in prison,” Gascon said, “but I hope our apology brings some small comfort to you as you begin your new life.”
According to a 2020 study (pdf) by the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), official misconduct accounts for more than half of wrongful convictions. A second major reason is mistaken identification by eyewitnesses.
According to the NRE, there have been 2,970 exonerations in the United States from 1989 through the end of 2021.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.