LA District Attorney Announces Exonerations of Two Men Wrongfully Convicted of Murder in 2001 in Downey

DA Announces Exoneration of Daniel Saldaña in 2023

The men are being exonerated after collectively spending nearly 40 years in prison for a murder they did not commit

Special to the Vanguard

Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced on Wednesday the exoneration and release of Ronald Velasquez Jr., who spent nearly a quarter century in prison for a murder he did not commit, and the exoneration of Abraham Villalobos, who was wrongfully convicted for the same crime and languished in prison for 15 years.

“Our commitment to seeking the truth is unwavering,” District Attorney Gascón said. “The exoneration of these two men serves as a reminder of the importance of accountability within our own office and throughout the justice system.

“I want to thank our Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) for helping to uncover the errors that led to these wrongful convictions. I firmly believe that this unit plays a crucial role in ensuring that justice is served and upholding the integrity of our criminal legal system. We must be relentless in our pursuit of truth and fairness, and the CIU is a key tool on righting wrongs and restoring faith in the system.”

Attorney Joe Trigilio, executive director of Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, thanked District Attorney Gascón and the CIU for their invaluable work on the case.

“LPI welcomes these collaborations with the CIU to see justice done, and we were inspired by the tenacious work of Mr. Velasquez Jr.’s lawyer John Hanusz and investigator Dana Orent for helping develop with the CIU the new evidence that led to the exonerations of these men.”

Attorney John Hanusz said Velasquez Jr. and his family were profoundly grateful to District Attorney Gascón and his CIU.

“Ronald Velasquez Jr. and his family worked tirelessly for more than 20 years to demonstrate his innocence, and their pleas for justice fell on deaf ears — until today,” Hanusz said. “Mr. Velasquez Jr.’s exoneration also would not have been possible but for the pro bono work of private investigator Dana Orent.”

On September 2, 2000, at approximately 2:50 a.m., Michael Roybal was shot to death as he opened the door of an apartment he was visiting on Deming Street in Downey. The sole eyewitness initially told authorities she could not see who was at the door, but at trial she decisively identified Velasquez Jr. as the shooter and Villalobos as the second suspect.

On October 23, 2001, a jury convicted Velasquez Jr. of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Villalobos was convicted of second-degree murder as an aider and abettor. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison and was paroled on September 18, 2015. Both Velasquez Jr. and Villalobos have maintained their innocence from the time of their arrest.

On May 11, 2021, Velasquez Jr. filed a conviction review request with the CIU claiming he was wrongfully convicted. New evidence strongly supported Velasquez’ Jr.’s claim that Sergio Torres was the true perpetrator and acted alone. Torres was killed in a drive by shooting on October 12, 2001. He was under investigation for a separate murder at the time of his death.

The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, along with attorneys Hanusz and Trigilio, requested that the court vacate the convictions, order Velasquez Jr. to be released, and issue findings of factual innocence. The court granted the request.

The exonerations announced today mark the third and fourth exonerations of 2024, and the eleventh and twelfth exonerations under the Gascón Administration.

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