South Bay man wrongfully convicted in drive-by shooting freed after 17 years in prison

Bay Area

A South Bay man is now free after spending 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. 

The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) fought for Lionel Rubalcava’s freedom and uncovered newly discovered evidence about crucial eyewitness identification. 

Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the NCIP, said Rubalcava happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

On April 2, 2002, a man was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in front of his younger brother. 

The victim was still recovering from serious injuries in the hospital when he identified, Rubalcava who was 22 years old at the time, as the shooter from a photo lineup. 

“The ball just kept rolling from there,” Kaneb said. “He was convicted based entirely on eyewitness identification. There was no physical evidence, nothing else connected him to the crime.” 

Kaneb says Rubalcava’s innocense underscores how easy it is to be wrongfully convicted and how hard it is to get out. 

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