The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office on Thursday announced that Daniel Saldana (center) was exonerated after spending 33 years in prison on a wrongful conviction related to a 1989 shooting. Photo by Los Angeles District Attorney's Office/Twitter
May 26 (UPI) -- California officials released a 55-year-old man from prison earlier this month after determining he was wrongly convicted in a 1989 shooting that injured two students after a high school football game.
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon announced Thursday that Daniel Saldana was exonerated after serving 33 years of a 45-year prison sentence related to the shooting after his Conviction Integrity Unit found that another man sentenced in the case backed Saldana's story that he was not there.
"As prosecutors, our duty is not simply to secure convictions but to seek justice," Gascon said in a statement. "When someone is wrongfully convicted, it is a failure of our justice system and it is our responsibility to right that wrong. We owe it to the individual who was wrongfully convicted and to the public that justice is served."
Two men opened fire on six high school students who were driving in Baldwin Park, Calif., after a high school football game as the pair mistook them for gang members, Gascon's office said. Two of the students sustained non-fatal injuries.
Saldana and two others were charged with six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting an occupied vehicle. He was a 22-year-old construction worker when he was sentenced in the shooting.
In August 2017, one of the other people sentenced disclosed that Saldana wasn't involved in the shooting at all. In February, the District Attorney's Office launched an investigation after receiving a copy of a 2017 hearing transcript.
"Not only is it a tragedy to force people into prison for a crime they did not commit, every time an injustice of this magnitude takes place, the real people responsible are still out there to commit more crimes," Gascon said.
Mike Romano, the director of Stanford University's Three Strikes Project who had been working with Saldana and his family throughout the exoneration process, called for better cross-agency cooperation to prevent others from being wrongly convicted.
"It is disappointing to know that a deputy district attorney was privy to this information over six years ago at a parole hearing but failed to bring it to light," Romano said in a statement. "But we thank the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] for bringing this information to the district attorney's attention in February of this year."