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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

Michael Romano, who is the chair of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s committee on revising the penal code, served as advisory counsel to the Saldana family in recent months. Romano said Gallegos initially alleged that Saldana was involved in the shooting when interviewed by police, though she never testified at trial.

He also said Saldana had been deemed unsuitable for parole at least six times, largely on the basis that he would not admit guilt.

Gascón declined to comment on what other evidence was used to convict Saldana, because he said prosecutors are still investigating whether anyone else might be culpable in the case. He declined to name the attorney who failed to act on the potentially exculpatory information from the 2017 parole hearing, only saying that the person no longer works for the office.

Asked if the office had forwarded the matter to the California State Bar for review, Gascón said only that it was being “evaluated.”

According to a transcript of the 2017 parole hearing provided to The Times by CDCR, the prosecutor who was present that day was Steve Sowders.

“I know this contradicts what the report says, but Daniel Saldana, he’s actually a victim of mine. He’s — he’s actually innocent,” Vidal said, according to the transcript, before describing another man he identifies as a gang member as the second shooter.

While members of the parole board expressed concern about Vidal’s comments at the hearing, Sowders only refers to it as a “big deal” and asks if this is the first time Vidal is making such comments.


Sowders went inactive with the state Bar in 2021 and moved outside of California, records show. He did not have any contact information listed on the state Bar website.

While Sowders’ actions were certainly troubling, they may not have violated ethical norms, according to Laurie Levenson, founder of the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Marymount University. The ethics rule that would require the prosecutor to disclose such information or face discipline from the bar association was not in effect until 2018.

“As prosecutors, our duty is not simply to secure convictions but to seek justice. When someone is wrongfully convicted, it is a failure of our justice system, and it is our responsibility to right that wrong,” Gascón said in a statement. “We owe it to the individual who was wrongfully convicted and to the public that justice is served.”

Gascón said it was the fourth exoneration to take place under his administration. Former District Attorney Jackie Lacey established the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2015. When he took office, Gascón issued an order loosening restrictions on when the unit could review cases.

The integrity unit received nearly 2,000 claims of innocence during Lacey’s time in office, leading to just four exonerations. The amount of post-conviction relief provided by the office at the time lagged far behind other major jurisdictions, including New York, Chicago and Houston.

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