The Mexican who lost 20 years of his life falsely accused of a crime

In 1991 Francisco Carrillo was accused of killing Donald Sarpy. The case was reopened in March 2011 and his accusers admitted having lied at the request of a Los Angeles County sheriff.

Francisco Carrillo was released on March 16, 2011. He married an Israeli woman who works with minors condemned to life in prison and the couple has a two-year-old son. (Photo: Luis Cortés / EL UNIVERSAL)
English 26/06/2016 14:31 Laura Sánchez / corresponsal Actualizada 14:34
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In 1991 Francisco Carrillo was charged with first-degree murder and attempted homicide of six young men. The alleged victims had sworn before U.S. authorities that the Mexican immigrant had committed the crime. However two decades later, Francisco was acquitted of the crime, because he was innocent.

On June 18, 1991 Donald Sarpy, an African American, 41, was killed in Lynwood, a suburb of Los Angeles, California . A young man aboard a vehicle shot from the window at a group of teenagers.

Seven blocks away, Carrillo, then 16, was coming home from school. He lived with his father, Don Panchito, a migrant who worked in the construction industry. Six hours later they were awakened by police officers who arrested Carrillo violently and took him to the the county police station and on to the juvenile prison after being interrogated.

Francisco went on trial for a murder he did not commit due to the testimony of a 15-year-old: Scott Turner. According to the official version of the Los Angeles Police Department, he selected Carrillo from a group of six photos.

Why did police have Carrillo's photo? In January 1990 he was riding bike with some friends when an officer stopped them in a friendly way. He asked them general questions but his real intentions were to take photos of the youngers.

The practice, although illegal, was recurrent back then. Police officers stopped Hispanic youngsters to make "gang albums". The selection was arbitrary and was generally considered a racist practice.

At the trial Carrillo's accusers said that he was tattooed. He wasn't. The government-assigned lawyer did nothing to help Carrillo; he could have proved that they were lying by simply uncovering Carrillo's body, but he did not do anything.

The court dismissed the testimony of Carrillo's father. The man swore that his son had been home from 4:00 p.m. cooking, washing and ironing. The prosecutor laughed sarcastically and told him that if he was going to lie he should make up something credible, because in his culture men did not do women's work. 

On June 30, 1992 Carrillo was sentenced to life imprisonment after a two-hour trial.

Carrillo's father died when his son had spent ten years a prison, sad and frustrated for not having money to pay for a private lawyer to defend him.

For many years Francisco worked at the prison school, where he met a teacher that was about to retire. After hearing his story the teacher told him that if she found a lawyer, she would tell him his story. Help arrived unexpectedly a week later, when Carrillo had served 15 years in prison.

Ten lawyers working for the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals, began an unprecedented process: the defense of a Mexican against U.S. legal system.

It took them five years to find all the witnesses involved in Carrillo's case. Surprisingly, they all confessed that a Los Angeles County sheriff had forced them to accuse Carrillo. One of them had not even witnessed the murder.

The case was reopened in March 2011. During the hearings those who testified against him asked him for forgiveness for ruining his life.

Carrillo was released on March 16, 2011. He married an Israeli woman who works with minors condemned to life in prison and the couple has a two-year-old son. Three months ago Carrillo graduated from a prestigious American university that gave him a scholarship to study sociology.

Carrillo reached an agreement with the U.S. government for the damage caused to him and his father, but he can not disclose the figure because he is waiting the payment to be made.



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