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OC man wrongly convicted of 1996 murder close to freedom

November 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Alfonso Gomez is one step closer to freedom. His daughters, 20-year-old Alyssa and 16-year-old Alexia, have waited their whole lives for this day.

"Happy tears, yeah, it's overwhelming, but it's a good feeling," said Alyssa Gomez.

The 38-year-old former gang member was convicted of murdering 21-year-old Martha Gonzalez in 1996 during a gang-related shooting in Santa Ana after several witnesses identified Gomez as the shooter. He was sentenced to life in prison.

"I knew in my heart he wasn't guilty," said Alexia Gomez.

"I'm thankful, I'm grateful for them to re-investigate the case," said Alfonso Gomez.

In 2010, Santa Ana detectives re-opened the investigation after getting new information while they were investigating a separate cold case murder in Fullerton that led them to Joe Garay. He was convicted of stabbing to death Troy Gorena in 1996. Police allege Garay also had the gun used in the Santa Ana shooting.

"Garay was the one that had the weapon at the time," said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna "They were able to link him to the murder."

Dozens of Gomez's family members came to court as his attorney asked the judge to have the conviction dropped. Gomez also had to be resentenced after serving time on two other unrelated crimes.

"It is a rare day that this court actually takes away time in prison," said Orange county Superior Court Judge David Hoffer.

Gomez has spent 16 years behind bars. Gomez's attorney says she hopes to get him before a parole board as soon as possible. Both the district attorney's office and Santa Ana police say they plan to request he be released immediately.

"I've been waiting for this day," he said. "I always knew it would come, I just didn't know when."

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