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After 20 years in prison, man to be set free after witnesses recant testimony in murder

Francisco Carrillo, 36, smiles while seated between attorneys Ellen Eggers, left, and Linda Starr after hearing the judge's decision to overturn his conviction at the Compton Courthouse on Monday.

A man who has spent 20 years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit is expected to be released from Los Angeles County Jail on Tuesday after several witnesses recanted their identification of him as the killer in a drive-by shooting.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge overturned the conviction of Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, 37, on Monday afternoon, finding that the recantations and other evidence undermined his conviction for the 1991 killing.

Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo made the decision after listening to more than a week of testimony from the witnesses and watching a dramatic reconstruction of the crime scene that raised questions about what the witnesses could have seen on the evening of the shooting.

“Franky is going to have some life and some freedom, but he lost so much,” said Linda Starr, the legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project, which worked on the case. “It took far too long.”

The case underscores what legal experts say is the danger of relying heavily on eyewitness testimony. Studies have shown that faulty identifications are the biggest factor in wrongful convictions and that witnesses are particularly unreliable when identifying someone of a different race. The witnesses who identified Carrillo are black, while he is Latino.

Carrillo was arrested six days after the Jan. 18, 1991, killing of Donald Sarpy, 41, on a residential street in Lynwood.

Five of the six witnesses who identified Carrillo during his 1992 trial recanted last week. Among them was Sarpy’s son, Dameon, who said he initially identified Carrillo because one of his friends at the scene said he recognized Carrillo as the shooter. That friend also recanted.

Los Angeles County prosecutors expressed doubts about some of the recantations but told Bacigalupo they believe that the conviction should be overturned. The judge ordered that Carrillo be released from jail. The district attorney’s office has the option of retrying the case, but a prosecutor told Bacigalupo he did not see how that would be possible.

In addition to the Northern California Innocence Project, Carrillo was represented by a large legal team that included Ellen J. Eggers, a deputy state public defender who worked on the case in her own time, and the private law firm of Morrison & Foerster, which provided lawyers and investigators free of charge.


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Photo: Francisco Carrillo smiles while seated between attorneys Ellen Eggers, left, and Linda Starr after hearing the judge's decision to overturn his conviction at the Compton Courthouse on Monday. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (49)

someone better prosecute these witnesses. unreal. at least they finally came forward... I guess better late than never.

There are so many more INNOCENT people in our prison system. I am so happy to hear this man is getting out, at the cost of 20 years behind bars!

The most pressing reason to abolish the death penalty. That is one lucky man.

Just another example of why the death penalty should be abolished.

20 year bid for a crime you didn't commit - it doesn't get much worse than that.

I'm not a big religion advocate but in his case I hope he turned to it because you would need something to help you get through 20 years of being wrongfully locked up.

Good luck to this guy and hopefully he wasn't too scarred by the whole process!

WOW, because of faulty witness this boy spent 20 yrs of his life in prison? whos gonna pay for that? the State or the County? hes got millions coming to him

Congrats on your freedom Francisco. I'm happy for you.

Just let those witnesses serve the same amount of time as punishment

I wonder if it is possible to get some monetary compensation for his unjust incarceration. This piece was missing from the article.


Does this mean that he didn't shoot the guy, or does it simply mean the witness didn't actually see him shoot the guy?

Just wondering.

How much did they have to donate to Steve Cooley to get this one?

I smell a lawsuit!

Too often witnesses do not even come forward at all in either fear of retribution or inertia. These witnesses assumedly did not purposefully place Mr Carrillo behind bars, & there are laws that send false witnesses to jail when purposefully done.

I'd rather see society start praising the good value of being a Witness & how to retain what a person sees & experiences in order to be a good witness. Criminals often depend upon the slightest of disguises - a baseball cap & sunglasses & fear - to get away with their crimes; it happened to me. An armed robber used a bright green baseball cap with an oversized brimto hide his hair & detract witnesses from his face, but having almost been killed by him I forced myself to LOOK hard at his face & imprint all I could on my mind knowing it would be there for retrieval. The other 6 hostages remembered the cap but I remembered enough to recognize him on the streets 6 weeks later & get him arrested & he is now doing 67yrs in prison.

They also need to take into account, the IQ of witnesses

Yet another story showing proof of a broken justice system! I am sickened every time I here of someone’s life ruined by a wrongful conviction. Our justice system does not operate in the interest of justice but in there own best interest. Conviction rates are what is important to these highly educated people that run the system that we pay for! Prosecutors only consider if the testimony will get there conviction and don't even consider the validity of it! Wake up people! Just because it did not happen to you or one of your loved ones does not mean we should just sit around and let it happen!

Yet another reason to abandon the death penalty.

Hundreds of convicted persons have now been released from prison after irrefutable DNA evidence proved their innocence. At least a dozen of them would have been liable for the death penalty; thankfully, it was never invoked.

Today's case involves multiple mistakes by alleged eyewitnesses. At least Mr Carillo is still alive to see justice done.

He was found guilty of murder. If the 'hang 'em high' crowd had their way, the state would have executed an innocent man, 20 years ago.

Illinois did the right thing after several alleged murderers were proven not guilty. Rather than kill an innocent man, they have abandoned the death penalty altogether. California must be next.

Its happy to hear that this man is being set free after he was robbed of all those years. Its sad because just like him there are many many many more men sitting/rotting away in prison for crimes they did not commit. I hope the one I Love gets a second chance just like this guy did.

Just goes to show the 'level' of intelligence of those who 'prosecuted' this man in the first place. Will he get an 'apology' from them or even some financial compensation for this ? FAT CHANCE, he should 'sue' not only those who 'lied' under oath but the DA's office !!

When I was in law school ,in the 80s , my criminal procedures instructor had us read a study done in Chicago in the late 70s. Police cadets were to identify culprits in various crime situations that were flashed before their eyes for a second in a slide show. One was of a black businessman being assaulted by a white robber. When the results were tallied , practically all of the cadets swore that it was a black robber assaulting a white businessman , even the black cadets.

So much for the reliability of eye witness testimony.

Great to hear a redemption story. I've always wondered what happens to the witnesses that come forward saying that they lied.

"someone better prosecute these witnesses. unreal. at least they finally came forward... I guess better late than never."

It would be pretty hard to convict the witnesses of making a faulty identification since it's not a crime in and of itself. Eyewitness testimony (unlike the way it's presented in tv crime dramas) has long been known to be very sketchy at best unless the witness is familiar in some way with the defendant.

Way to solve this: disallow ALL eyewitness testimony. It is notoriously unreliable; this has been proven. For someone to spend years and even decades in prison for a crime he did not commit is beyond reprehensible. Eyewitnesses get it very very wrong, most of the time. With the technology available now, DNA can be used in almost every case. Where DNA isn't possible, then an actual video recording of the crime must be used.

God bless you Franky! I will be praying for you! I'm so very sorry for what you've had to go through!! If you haven't done so, please give your life to God through His Son Jesus Christ!! Your/our real life, eternal, awaits us!!! Again, I'm very sorry!!

Congratulations to Ellen Eggers. Read "The Innocent Man" by John Grisham, his only non-fiction book, about a true story about how this happens. A real case history of crooked cops, prosecuters and a flawed judicial system gone awry while an innocent man gets freed from death row after more than 10 years. Also, the Innocence Project headed by noted Attorney Barry Scheck which has freed many from similar circumstances, often from Death Row.

Makes you wonder, how many innocent people are in
prison right now.

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