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Los Angeles area man wrongfully convicted of shooting freed from prison after 30-plus years

James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — A 55-year-old Baldwin Park man was freed from state prison earlier this month after prosecutors and parole officials uncovered years-old evidence that pointed to his innocence in a 1989 shooting, officials announced Thursday.

Daniel Saldana was sentenced to 45 years to life in prison in 1990. He had been convicted of attempted murder in an incident in which someone opened fire on six Baldwin Park high school students following a football game, mistaking them for gang members, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. Two of the students were injured.

Saldana, Raul Vidal and April Gallegos were all convicted of six counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle, records show. But Saldana always maintained his innocence and insisted he wasn’t there.

In 2017, Vidal told a state parole board he was responsible for the shooting and that Saldana wasn’t present at the time, Gascón said. But that information was not made available to Saldana or his defense attorneys, according to Gascón, who said a Los Angeles County prosecutor was present but did not report the information either.

In February 2023, however, the parole board turned over transcripts from that hearing to the district attorney’s office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which quickly launched an investigation that raised questions about Saldana’s guilt, according to Gascón. The office joined a motion from Saldana to have his conviction tossed, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Ryan granted a finding of factual innocence on May 11.

Because a deputy district attorney was present when “claims of innocence by (Saldana’s) co-defendant were made” in 2017, the parole board did not instigate conversations with L.A. prosecutors, according to Mary Xjimenez, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


“If the claims of innocence had been made in a setting without the deputy district attorney present, the Board would have been responsible to refer the matter to the prosecuting agency,” Xjimenez wrote in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times. “The Board does not investigate claims of innocence, except when requested by the Governor to do so as part of a clemency application.”

Xjimenez did not say exactly what triggered the parole board’s actions in February 2023, but noted parole commissioners sometimes review previous transcripts ahead of future hearings on a person’s suitability for release.

Saldana was flanked by more than a dozen family members as he spoke during a downtown news conference. He said “it’s been a struggle, every day waking up knowing that you’re innocent, and here I am locked up in a cell, not knowing the legal system, not having resources or money.”

Saldana was 22 when he was arrested. He said he was working in construction at the time of the shooting and had no idea why he’d been linked to the crime.


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