Innocent Man Free After 20 Years Behind Bars

A judge ruled that Francisco Carrillo should be freed from prison after witnesses recanted their testimony.

March 16, 2011

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- A man who has been in prison for 20 years for murder is a free man, after witnesses in the case recanted their testimony.

Francisco "Franky" Carrillo, 37, was convicted in 1992 for the murder of Donald Sarpy, but a Superior Court judge overturned the conviction Monday.

Carrillo's conviction was based on identification testimony from six people, including the victim's son.

All six have now admitted that they did not really see anything, and were influenced to make their identifications of Carrillo. In addition, two other men have confessed to the shooting, defense investigators said, and admitted that Carrillo was not involved.

Judge Paul A. Bacigalupo made the decision to release Carrillo after a week of testimony that raised questions about whether there was enough evidence to prove Carrillo committed the crime.

Prosecutors conceded that new evidence required the reversal, and that it was unlikely they would seek to retry Carrillo.

During the six days of testimony, the witnesses admitted that they could not really see the shooter's face.

Defense investigator David Lynn testified to a confession he obtained from another man who exonerated Carrillo.

Carrillo also testified that he was not involved in the shooting.

The men who have allegedly confessed to the shooting asserted their rights against self-incrimination and refused to testify.

Donald Sarpy, 41, was murdered on January 18, 1991, when he was shot as he stepped out of his home in Lynwood.

Sarpy's son, Dameon, and five other friends were nearby, but none were wounded.

Their initial statements were vague and conflicting.

A few told police that they heard someone in a passing car shout a Hispanic gang slogan, and they could only describe the shooter as a Hispanic male teenager.

The witnesses could not agree on what the car looked like. They gave descriptions ranging from tan to black and shiny to dull. Some said there were three males in the car, and some said there were only two males in the car.

Carrillo, who was 16 years old at the time, became a suspect after a mix-up in street names led officers to identify him as the perpetrator in another shooting.

The first witness to identify Carrillo was Scott Turner, one of the attempted murder victims. He identified Carrillo from a photo lineup, and then told his friends that he had chosen the person in position number 1. He also described what Carrillo looked like.

When the other witnesses were shown the photo lineup months later, all chose number 1.

Because there was no physical evidence linking Carrillo to the crime, their testimony was critical to the prosecution.

Turner took the stand during the latest hearing and apologized to Carrillo, saying he was willing to accept punishment for what he had done. He said he knew that it was wrong, and that he had stolen the life of an innocent man.

Carrillo was tried twice. The first ended in a mistrial after jurors were deadlocked 7 to 5 for acquittal.

At a second trial in 1992, Turner recanted his identification of Carrillo, but the remaining five witnesses strengthened their identifications and eliminated inconsistencies in their testimony.

The district attorney argued that Turner was simply scared to be labeled a "snitch."

The jury convicted Carrillo on all counts, and he was sentenced to two consecutive life prison sentences.

At his sentencing on December 3, 1992, a criminal defense attorney came to court and announced that a former client was in the hallway. He said that the client was at the crime scene, and would say that Carrillo had not been involved.

The trial judge denied that request and sent Carrillo to prison.

In March of 2003, Carrillo discovered for the first time that handwritten notes from the man who came to court at his sentencing were still in the defense investigator's file.

In those notes, the man admitted to his participation in the murder.

Relying on that new evidence, Carrillo filed a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2003. The Superior Court denied the petition, finding that "compared to the quality and quantity of the witnesses who identified the defendant as the shooter, defendant's 'evidence' is speculative at best."

A big break in the case came when the victim's son, Dameon Sarpy, read a handwritten confession from one of the true perpetrators, and then admitted that he could actually identify anyone in the car.

He also said he had relied on Turner's word to identify Carrillo.

Carrillo's legal team then tracked down four of the other five witnesses, and all recanted their testimony. They said they did not actually see the shooter because it was dark and everything happened so quickly.

The District Attorney's Office found the remaining eyewitness, who also recanted his identification.

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