Two men were sentenced to prison this week in connection with a 1996 Compton shooting that led to the wrongful conviction of a man who spent 20 years behind bars, officials announced Wednesday.
Antonio Salgado, 44, was sentenced to 60 years to life in prison, while Antonio Garcia, 64, was sentenced to 25 years to life, both for attempted murder charges in connection with a murder-for-hire plot.
Marco Contreras was wrongfully convicted in the case in 1997 and sentenced to life, but he was released in March 2017 after a second investigation led to the identification of the real culprits in the crime, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Contreras was 41 at the time of his release. He maintained his innocence as he spent half his life behind bars.
The District Attorney’s Habeas Corpus Litigation Team began looking into Contreras’ claims of innocence in 2014 at the request of the Loyola Project for the Innocent. The investigation was reassigned to deputy district attorneys in the Conviction Review Unit of the department in 2015.
The second probe uncovered evidence that led to the arrest and conviction of Salgado and Garcia last February.
The crime occurred on Sept. 10, 1996, when the victim was pumping gas at a station in Compton. A man approached the victim from behind, and after a brief exchange, the victim was shot once in the chest. The victim was able to run away, but the shooter pursued him and shot at the victim multiple times before striking him again in the back, according to prosecutors. The victim then crawled under an SUV for cover. The gunman looked under the vehicle and fired again before driving away.
The victim managed to crawl from under the SUV and asked a gas station cashier to call the police before he lost consciousness. He survived the attack, officials said.
Miguel Contreras was initially arrested and charged in the crime. During his preliminary hearing, however, a witness identified his brother Marco, who was sitting in the audience, as the shooter. Marco Contreras was subsequently charged and convicted with attempted murder.
Miguel Contreras later pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the crime and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Additional charges were dropped as part of a plea deal, the Los Angeles Times reported.
After his release, Miguel Contreras told police that his brother was not the gunman, and later told authorities that Salgado was. He eventually helped officials with an undercover sting operation that revealed the shooting was a hit, likely over a drug dispute, the Times reported.
In a 2014 interview with investigators, Miguel Contreras said he and Salgado were hired by Garcia to carry out the murder-for-hire plot, according to the newspaper. He maintained that he was just helping out a friend.
Upon his release in 2017, Marco Contreras thanked the DA and everyone involved in his release, the Times reported.
The Conviction Review Unit has received more than 1,900 wrongful conviction claims since its inception, and three convictions have been vacated, officials said.