Wrongly convicted man who spent 20 years in prison now running for LA County congressional seat

He joins a 27th Congressional District race that includes fellow Democrat George Whitesides, the former CEO of Virgin Galactic.

Friday, April 21, 2023
Wrongly convicted man spent 20 years in jail runs for Congress
Franky Carrillo, who spent 20 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned when witnesses recanted their testimony, has announced a campaign for Congress.

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (CNS) -- Francisco "Franky'' Carrillo, who spent 20 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned when witnesses recanted their testimony, has announced a campaign for Congress, challenging Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in a northern Los Angeles County district.

"I know what it's like to be on the wrong end of a rigged system,'' Carrillo says on his campaign website. "I'm running for Congress to fix a broken economic system that's stacked against regular people. I will fight to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.''

The 49-year-old Carrillo joins a 27th Congressional District race that already includes fellow Democrat George Whitesides, the former CEO of Virgin Galactic.

Garcia was elected to the seat in 2020 following the resignation of then-Rep. Katie Hill, winning both a special election, then a general election later that year, and re-election in 2022 -- all three times defeating Democrat Christy Smith.

The 27th Congressional District, while held by a Republican, is seen as a vulnerable seat in the next election, with voters in the district favoring Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020.

Carrillo was convicted of killing Donald Sarpy in a 1991 drive-by attack in an area of Lynwood that was home to two rival gangs. Carrillo was 16 at the time. His conviction was overturned in 2011, and in 2016 the county Board of Supervisors approved a $10.1 million settlement of Carrillo's ensuing lawsuit against the sheriff's department.

A gang member who served as a key witness in the shooting case "believed that the shooter was a rival gang member'' and picked Carrillo out of a "gang book'' of 140 photos on the night of the shooting, according to a summary provided to the board. The witness then re-identified Carrillo from a "six-pack" photo array.

Five other witnesses looked at the photo array just before Carrillo's preliminary hearing -- about six months after the shooting -- and chose Carrillo's photo before testifying at trial that he was the gunman, according to the summary.

However, at a 2011 hearing to reconsider Carrillo's conviction, eyewitnesses admitted that they couldn't really see the gunman's face. The first witness had already recanted his identification, saying he was convinced someone else was the shooter.

Defense attorneys said two other men had since confessed to the crime, though those men refused to testify and incriminate themselves, according to the Santa Clara University School of Law.

In Carrillo's lawsuit, he alleged that former sheriff's Deputy Craig Ditsch had steered the first witness' identification. That witness had randomly selected several photos from the gang book, but was told each time by Ditsch that his selection "could not be the suspect,'' according to court documents. When the witness picked Carrillo, Ditsch told him he'd made the "right choice."

Ditsch testified during trial that witnesses often recant for fear of being seen as "snitches" and said the witness changed his story after being sent to jail.

Carrillo's story was featured on the Netflix series "The Innocence Files."

According to his website, Carrillo earned a degree from Loyola Marymount University after his exoneration and works as a chief policy adviser for the Los Angeles Innocence Project. He also serves on the county's Probation Oversight Commission.

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