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Murder conviction voided after 20 years

Five witnesses who identified Francisco Carrillo as the gunman in a Lynwood drive-by shooting recant. A mock staging of the crime raises doubts about whether they could ever have reliably identified the shooter.

March 16, 2011|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

Dameon Sarpy, the victim's then-17-year-old son, told jurors in the first trial that he was "pretty sure" Carrillo was the shooter. After the jury deadlocked, the prosecutor asked him whether he was certain. Sarpy said he was, Escalante recalled in court, and she told him to make sure the jury knew that next time. Sarpy testified more confidently at the second trial.

But Sarpy, now an orthopedic technician, said last week that he identified Carrillo after Turner told him which photo Turner had selected in the six-pack.

Courts usually look skeptically at witness recantations. Some witnesses renounce their testimony out of fear of retaliation. But Escalante, who has prosecuted dozens of gang homicides, testified that Sarpy's recantation troubled her.

"I believed him with all my heart," she said, tearing up. "Why would somebody whose dad is dead now say that he didn't see it? He has a vested interest in seeing that the person who killed his father paid the price."

Turner apologized to Carrillo in court last week.

"I … hope God allows you to forgive me for what I did to you," he said as Carrillo's relatives in the courtroom wept.

Turner, who is serving a prison sentence for assault with a firearm and false imprisonment, alleged that a sheriff's deputy rejected photos of other suspects he initially selected until he chose Carrillo's. Sheriff's deputies dispute the claim, and prosecutors noted that over the years Turner has told several conflicting versions of what he saw and who was responsible for the killing.

Indeed, some of the recanting witnesses have given conflicting statements in recent months to district attorney's officials and sheriff's investigators.

And although Carrillo's attorneys argued that two other men had confessed to others and implicated a third person, prosecutors said that in interviews with sheriff's detectives all three denied any involvement. The men refused to testify last week.

On Friday evening, Bacigalupo visited the crime scene to see for himself what could have been seen the night of the shooting.

The judge stood with a group of attorneys and investigators in the driveway where the boys had been 20 years ago and squinted in the dark as a car drove by several times. Once the vehicle had traveled past the judge, the car's passenger leaned out and aimed a cellphone at the bystanders. His face was little more than a black silhouette.

Brentford Ferreira, a supervising prosecutor, told the judge Monday that doubts remained about the recantations. But he said he believed that the conviction should be overturned.

Carrillo smiled broadly as Bacigalupo ordered his release. A district attorney's spokeswoman said the office has 60 days to decide whether to retry the case.

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