In January 1991, Donald Sarpy was shot and killed in the the driveway of his home in Lynwood, California as his teenage son and five friends stood nearby.
Francisco Carrillo became a suspect after police mistakenly identified him as the shooter in another incident. One of the eyewitnesses, who had been shown Carrillo’s photograph on the night of the shooting, later identified Carrillo as the shooter.
That witness then told his five friends that Carrillo was the shooter. Those five friends identified Carrillo in a lineup six months later. All six of the witnesses testified at Carrillo’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury.
One of the witnesses recanted before Carrillo’s second trial, but the other five continued to identify Carrillo as the shooter. In December 1992, the second jury convicted him of murder, and six counts of attempted murder and Carrillo was sentenced to life.
At Carrillo’s sentencing, a criminal defense attorney representing another man told the court that his client was at the murder scene and could testify that Carrillo was not involved, but the judge would not let him testify.
In March 2003, Carrillo, reviewing a defense investigator’s files, discovered notes from the man who was not allowed to testify at his sentencing in which that man confessed to the shooting. After the victim’s son read one of the notes, he admitted that he had not been able to see the shooter.
Eventually, the other eyewitnesses recanted as well. The first witness who identified Carrillo said Carrillo had been pointed out to him by police.
In March 2011, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated Carrillo’s conviction. The prosecution dismissed the charges in April 2011.
- Stephanie Denzel