A judge has cleared and ordered the release of a California man who had spent 25 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, following the admission by the prosecution that the man had been wrongfully convicted.
After being detained in 1998 in connection with a deadly drive-by shooting in Whittier, California, 44-year-old Miguel Solorio was found guilty and given a life sentence without the chance of release.
At a hearing on Thursday in Los Angeles, Superior Court Judge William Ryan reversed Solorio’s conviction. The state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has five days to arrange for Solorio’s release from Mule Creek State Prison.
Following the hearing, Solorio expressed his gratitude to his Northern California Innocence Project attorneys, referring to them as his “dream team.”
“It’s like a dream I don’t want to wake up from,” he said. “This day finally came.”
Attorneys for Solorio said that a now-disproved technique of identifying a suspect—showing repeatedly images of the same individual to a witness—was a major component of the case against him.
Four eyewitnesses who saw Solorio’s photo before his case made headlines did not recognise him as the suspect—some even named a different person—but police enforcement declined to follow up on any leads. Rather, according to Solorio’s attorneys, the witnesses were shown images of the man by the authorities at the time until a few of them recognised him.
“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.”
In a letter sent last month, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office stated that it had “confidently and definitively” come to the conclusion that Solorio should be released from jail.
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.”