Baldwin Park man wrongly convicted of shooting is released from prison after more than 30 years

A 55-year-old Baldwin Park man was released from state prison earlier this month after prosecutors and parole officers uncovered years-old evidence pointing to his innocence in a 1989 shooting. officials said Thursday.

According to Los District of Angeles County. Atti. George Gascon. Two of the students were injured.

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

In 2017, Vidal told a state parole board that he was responsible for the shooting and that Saldana was not 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 also did not report the information. .

In February 2023, however, the parole board turned over the transcripts of that hearing to the District Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Integrity Unit, which quickly launched an investigation that raised questions about Saldana’s guilt. , according to Gascon. The bureau joined a motion by Saldana to have her conviction overturned, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Ryan issued a declaration of factual innocence on May 11.

Because an assistant district attorney was present when (Saldana’s) co-defendant’s ‘statements of innocence’ were made in 2017, the parole board did not engage in conversations with Los Angeles prosecutors, according to Mary Xjimenez, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“If the declarations of innocence had been made in a setting without the presence of the assistant prosecutor, the Commission would have been instructed to refer the case to the prosecution,” Xjimenez wrote in an email to The Times. “The Council does not investigate allegations of innocence except when asked to do so by the Governor as part of a clemency application.”

Xjimenez did not say exactly what triggered the parole board’s actions in February 2023, but noted that parole board members sometimes review past transcripts ahead of future hearings on a person’s fitness to serve. be released.

Saldana was joined by more than a dozen family members as he spoke at a downtown press conference. He said “it’s been a struggle, every day waking up knowing you’re innocent, and here I am locked in a cell, not knowing the justice system, having no resources or money”.

Saldana was 22 when he was arrested. He said he was working in construction at the time of the shooting and did not know why he had been linked to the crime.

Michael Romano, who is the chairman of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Penal Code Review Committee, has served as an advisory advisor to the Saldana family in recent months. Romano said Gallegos initially alleged that Saldana was involved in the shooting when she was questioned by police, although she never testified at trial.

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

Gascón declined to comment on other evidence used to convict Saldana, as he said prosecutors were still investigating whether someone else might be guilty in the case. He declined to name the lawyer who failed to act on potentially exculpatory information from the 2017 parole hearing, saying only that the person no longer worked for the bureau.

When asked if the office had referred the case to the California State Bar for review, Gascón only replied that it was being “assessed.”

While the anonymous prosecutor’s actions are certainly troubling, they may not have violated ethical standards, 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 disciplinary action from the bar was only in effect in 2018.

“As prosecutors, our duty is not just to obtain 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 be served.”

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

The Integrity Unit received nearly 2,000 declarations of innocence during Lacey’s tenure, which led to only four exonerations. The amount of post-conviction reparations provided by the bureau at the time was far behind other major jurisdictions, including New York, Chicago and Houston.

Los Angeles Times

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