Crime & Justice

LA County approves $10 million payout to wrongfully convicted man

Franky Carrillo spent 20 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. L.A. County agreed to pay him $10.1 million on Tuesday.
Franky Carrillo spent 20 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. L.A. County agreed to pay him $10.1 million on Tuesday.
Michael Juliano/KPCC

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $10.1 million payout to a Lynwood man who spent 20 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

The murder case against Francisco Carrillo hinged on the words of six teenage boys who had been standing with Donald Sarpy on January 18, 1991 when he was killed in a drive-by shooting. 

It was hardly a clearcut case: a jury in Carrillo's first trial deadlocked seven to five, but a second jury found him guilty. 

Carrillo spent 20 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in 2011.

It turned out investigators with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department had shown five of the six witnesses a photo lineup of suspects six months after the shooting.

The first witness to identify Carrillo had been given a book of photographs of gang members from which to pick out possible suspects. In a hearing to overturn Carrillo's conviction, the witness testified he picked out several other suspects before being steered by a sheriff's deputy towards identifying Carrillo.

The remaining witnesses were told Carrillo had already been identified by one eye witness before also picking him out of a photo lineup, according to court filings.

Carrillo also argued poor lighting would have given any eye witness trouble identifying the shooter. 

According to a summary provided to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, a deputy sheriff in the case also gave "inconsistent testimony during court proceedings."

Carrillo was released from prison in March 2011. 

In August 2015, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Carrillo's lawsuit against the sheriff's department could proceed. 

In their decision, a panel of three judges wrote that in Carrillo's case, as well as another 1984 murder investigated by the sheriff's department, "police officers failed to disclose evidence that would have cast serious doubt on the testimony of key prosecution witnesses."

Police officers are generally immune from such lawsuits, "unless they have violated a statutory or constitutional right clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct" the judges wrote, which they did by withholding potentially exculpatory evidence. 

The sheriff's department has since overhauled its policy on suspect identification and using photo arrays, according to a summary provided to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. That memo also states the sheriff's deputies involved in the case have since left the department for unrelated reasons.