A California man who has been in prison for 25 years for a murder he did not commit has been exonerated and ordered released by a judge after prosecutors agreed he was wrongly convicted.
Miguel Solorio, 44, was arrested in 1998 for a fatal drive-by shooting in Whittier, California, and was later convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Superior Court Judge William Ryan overturned Solorio’s conviction on Thursday during a court hearing in Los Angeles and the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was given up to five days to process Solorio’s release from Mule Creek State Prison.
After the hearing concluded, Solorio thanked his attorneys from the Northern California Innocence Project, describing them as his “dream team.”
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“It’s like a dream I don’t want to wake up from,” he said. “This day finally came.”
Solorio’s attorneys argued the case against him was based heavily on a since-debunked method of identifying a suspect that involves clouding a witness’s memory by showing photos of the same person over and over again.
Before Solorio’s case was in the news, four eyewitnesses who were shown his photo did not identify him as the suspect – some even identified a different person – but law enforcement refused to pursue other leads. Instead, authorities at the time continued to present the witnesses with photos of Solorio until some of them eventually identified him, according to his lawyers.
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“This case is a tragic example of what happens when law enforcement officials develop tunnel vision in their pursuit of a suspect,” said Sarah Pace, an attorney with the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law. “Once a witness mentioned Solorio’s name, law enforcement officers zeroed in on only him, disregarding other evidence and possible suspects, and putting their own judgment about guilt or innocence above the facts.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said in a letter last month that it had “confidently and definitively” concluded that Solorio is entitled to be freed from prison.
The district attorney’s letter noted that “new documentable scientific consensus emerged in 2020 that a witness’s memory for a suspect should be tested only once, as even the test itself contaminates the witness’s memory.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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