By Sophia Barberini
LOS ANGELES, CA – Daniel Saldaña’s exoneration was announced during a press conference Thursday by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón after Saldaña spent 33 years wrongfully incarcerated for an attempted murder conviction.
“Today I stand before you to announce a significant development in a case that has been ongoing for over three decades. After a thorough review of the evidence, we have determined that Daniel Saldaña was wrongly convicted of several counts of attempted murder,” said DA Gascón.
Gascón explained the circumstances that led to Saldaña’s arrest and conviction, noting, “On October 27, 1989, six high school students were driving in Baldwin Park after a high school football game when two young men mistook them for gang members and opened fire.”
In January of 1990, when Saldaña was only 22, said Gascón, Saldaña “and two others were charged with six counts of attempted willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder, and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle. Mr. Saldaña was convicted of these charges and sentenced to 45 years to life in state prison.”
After Saldaña spent over 27 years in prison, “On August 31, 2017, one of the other defendants disclosed during his parole hearing that Mr. Saldaña was not involved in the shooting in any way and he was not present during the incident,” stated Gascón.
Though this claim came in 2017, it wasn’t until the end of February 2023, as highlighted by Gascón, “the Board of Parole Hearings provided a copy of the 2017 hearing transcripts to our office.”
“In 2017, the Deputy District Attorney from this office, who is no longer here, was present at the parole hearing when the person, who admitted his participation in the crime and named his accomplice, told the parole board that Mr. Saldaña was innocent. He was present, but apparently did nothing. This information was clearly exonerating information, which the DA’s Office was required to turn over to Mr. Saldaña or his attorney, but it was not turned over,” explained Gascón.
Gascón stated that the current LA DA’s Office, after they learned the information in 2023, immediately “launched an investigation.
“Our Conviction Integrity Unit realized the importance of this new evidence and quickly thought to prioritize the investigation into the matter. They conducted a thorough review of the case, including reexamination of the evidence, and in partnership with the Baldwin Park Police Department, investigated new leads.
“Based on their investigation, we have determined that Daniel Saldaña is innocent of the crimes that he was convicted of and spent 33 years in prison for. This failure to investigate this matter in 2017 cost Mr. Saldana an additional six years in prison,” said Gascón.
Michael Romano, the Director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project and Chair of the Governor’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, who has been working with Gascón and his family pro bono, explained why this case spoke to him.
“This is really an extraordinary case for lots of reasons. I think every exoneration is, but this one is especially extraordinary,” said Romano, who gave three reasons why the case was so extraordinary.
Firstly, explained Romano, it was the duration of the sentence Saldaña had already served for a crime he “had absolutely nothing to do with.”
Secondly, Romano continued, was that “the Board of Parole Hearings knew of exonerating material that would end up freeing Danny, yet did nothing.”
Finally, Saldaña’s family, said Romano, made the case extraordinary.
“I’ve been in this business for many years and represented people who have served decades and decades for crimes they should no longer be in prison for. I’ve never seen such a large and supportive family,” Romano added.
“This is an important day for Mr. Saldaña, his family, and this is the day that we publicly announce that Mr. Saldaña is an innocent man,” declared Gascón.
Gascón addressed Saldaña, “Mr. Saldaña, you always maintained your innocence, and I want to apologize to you once again, to you and your family for this failure. I know that this won’t bring you back the decades you endured in prison and I hope that our apology is some small comfort to you as you begin your new life.”
DA Gascón emphasized the importance of reviewing convictions to ensure others are not left in the same position as Saldaña.
“If we want our criminal justice system to yield reliable results, we must ensure that convictions are accurate and trustworthy. This mission requires us to go back and examine cases when we may have gotten it wrong in the past. Not only is this a tragedy to force people into prison for a crime they did not commit, but every time that an injustice of this magnitude takes place, the real people responsible are still out there to commit other crimes,” said Gascón.
Gascón also noted the importance of accountability from law enforcement and DA offices in these situations.
“Our job is to hold people accountable when they cause harm, but we also must hold ourselves and the system accountable when we fail to take appropriate action. When wrongdoing in our part occurs, I am not hesitant to own up to our mistake and to do what needs to be done to take corrective action. The work of CIU not only corrects past injustice, but makes our community safer,” concluded Gascón.
Daniel Saldaña spoke briefly to convey his appreciation toward those that helped facilitate his exoneration.
“Thank you everyone for coming… This is overwhelming… I just knew that one day this was gonna come. I’m just so grateful. I just thank God and Jesus above. But most of all, I’m just so grateful for this for happening and for all of you guys coming. Thank you,” Saldaña emotionally concluded.