Innocence lost ... and found
Franky Carrillo and Gloria Killian tell of how close they came to death for murders they did not commit
With a measure on the November ballot aimed at ending capital punishment in California, two people are telling of just how close they came to execution by the state for crimes they did not commit.
One is Francisco “Franky” Carrillo,” who on Sunday explained to rapt congregants of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena how he spent 19 years behind bars for murder until 2011, when all the witnesses who testified against him ultimately recanted their testimonies.
Another is Pasadena’s Gloria Killian, who was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 17 years due to perjured testimony and prosecutorial misconduct. Killian, who’s spoken at All Saints in the past, will discuss her book, “Full Circle: A True Story of Murder, Lies and Vindication,” co-written with Sandra Kobrin, at 2 p.m. Sunday during the Sisters in Crime book discussion at South Pasadena Public Library, 1115 El Centro St., South Pasadena.
Originally eligible for the death penalty before being sentenced to 32 years to life in prison, Killian was released 10 years ago after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her conviction for a 1981 murder and robbery in Sacramento. All three appellate court judges agreed Killian was convicted entirely on perjured testimony acquired from a convicted murderer in the same case trying to strike a deal for leniency with an overzealous prosecutor.
“Part of it is simply I had gone to law school before, and so, luckily, I was put into the law library as a job, and I stayed in there for 15 and a half years,” Killian told the Weekly, explaining how she coped with her living nightmare. At the time of her arrest in 1983, Killian was in college studying law.
“I couldn’t help myself, but I was able to help a lot of other women. [My case] actually made law reviews and published articles. All of it gave me a purpose,” she said.
Carrillo was sentenced in 1992 to one life term and 30 years to life in prison after being convicted of one count of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder in the fatal drive-by shooting of a 41-year-old Lynwood man. On Sunday, he told a similar tale of being falsely accused at the All Saints Rector’s Forum. In a May 17 story for the Huffington Post, “Innocent & Executed: It Could Have Been Me,” Carrillo compares his fate to that of a Texas man who was executed only to be exonerated posthumously. “Every wrongful conviction is a tragedy, but the death penalty makes that travesty irreversible,” he wrote.
During his presentation at All Saints, Carrillo pointed out, “I could have been that guy. I could have been that person on death row.”
The Pasadena church, a hub of activism on such issues as war, immigration, AIDS care, health care, affordable housing, education and economic justice, is also formally opposed to capital punishment.
During the presentation, advocates distributed literature on the SAFE (Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement) Initiative, a measure on the November ballot aimed at ending capital punishment in California, and the church’s position against the death penalty. If passed, the act would eliminate capital punishment, making life in prison without parole the maximum sentence a court could deliver.
The initiative is backed by Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based nonprofit headed by Jeanne Woodford, a former warden at San Quentin State Penitentiary, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp. Woodford actually administered four executions at San Quentin, while Van de Kamp oversaw capital punishments meted out during his time as LA County DA from 1976 to 1982.
Van de Kamp, a longtime Pasadena resident who served as attorney general from 1983 to 1991, chaired the California Commission on the Fair Administration from 2006 to 2008. That commission determined the state would save $125 million a year by eliminating capital punishment, which now requires extra-costly legal and confinement requirements for condemned men and women.
Carrillo tells a similar story to Killian’s — primarily of how he believed official misconduct played a critical role in his conviction. Although one young man who was in the car from which the fatal shots were fired testified at Carrillo’s sentencing that the then-16-year-old Carrillo was not in the car that night, according to a report in AOLNews.com, five of six young men who were there previously testified to seeing Carrillo shoot Donald Sarpy, the father of one of the teens.
The young men picked Carrillo’s photo from those provided by Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide investigators, whom they later said led them to pick out the teenager. Carrillo has maintained that he was the victim of a gang of sheriff’s deputies known as the Lynwood Vikings, who he told NBC reporters Mary Harris and Colleen Williams “coerced and threatened key witnesses into identifying him in a photo lineup,” according to a story appearing at nbclosangeles.com.
After Carrillo lost his first appeal, state Deputy Public Defender Ellen Eggers picked up the case and worked on it on her own time. She then turned for help to the Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by famed OJ Simpson trial DNA expert Barry Scheck. Scheck’s group’s efforts, according to innocenceproject.org, have resulted in the overturning of 292 convictions nationwide. Most of those exonerations, however, were due to countervailing DNA evidence. Eyewitness testimony, by comparison, is more difficult to impeach or reverse after a conviction is rendered.
In Carillo’s case, each of the youths who testified against the now 38-year-old — including the slain man’s son — recanted their original trial testimony. One of the witnesses even apologized to Carrillo during his recantation, and Carrillo, in turn, stood briefly and forgave him in open court. On March 14, 2011, a judge overturned the conviction, without objection from the district attorney’s office, and two days later Carrillo was released from custody.
“He stood and said, ‘Franky, I’m sorry.’ And I stood and I said, ‘I forgive you. I really do,” Carrillo said describing the dramatic courtroom scene. Saturday marked the 20-year anniversary of his conviction. “These boys were all victims on so many different levels. I never saw them as the problem or deserving of my anger.”
While in prison, Carrillo, who was a part-time freshman last year at Loyola Marymount University and has since been accepted fulltime for the fall, earned his general equivalency diploma. He also became a certified optician as well as a Braille transcriber certified by the Library of Congress, according to AOLNews. He sent money he earned cooking, cutting hair and doing transcriptions home to his son, who is also currently enrolled in college but wasn’t even born when Carrillo was incarcerated.
“I realized early on, and thank God I realized this, that if you focus on the problem, you never look for the solution. That was very, very clear to me. And that was a hurdle by itself, to figure it out,” Carrillo said after his presentation. “I started to figure it out, and to act on it. I just knew that attitude was going to start to help me out until I was very sure what energy I should put into things, and life. That definitely, definitely helped.”
Killian, who was an aspiring law student at the time of her arrest in 1983, learned about the perjured testimony of one of the real killers in the case, Gary Masse, through an attorney for Masse’s co-defendant. The attorney revealed undisclosed written correspondence between Massey and Sacramento Deputy District Attorney Christopher Cleland, who prosecuted Killian.
“Gloria Killian is one of those people who make the world better wherever she goes,” said Ellen Snortland, a women’s rights activist and longtime Pasadena Weekly columnist. “How horrific that one of the places she went was prison. What a huge miscarriage of justice. Ironically, the prison system and other prisoners will benefit because Gloria suffered. She’s living proof that revenge pales compared to compassionate advocacy.”
Cleland was later tried by the State Bar Association of California and convicted of unethical conduct in 2008.
But before any of that could happen, Killian needed an attorney, which she could not afford. It was then that Pasadena’s Joyce Ride, mother of Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, stepped in and financed a new investigation of the case. That led to a hearing in 2000, during which Masse revealed his corruption and false testimony. In another two years, Killian was freed.
Since her release, Killian has founded the Action Committee for Women in Prison, served as a consultant on issues related to the criminal justice system and has lectured at USC Law School, Loyola Law School, Southwestern Law School and Arizona State University.
“When you hear about cases like ours, demand some accountability,” Killian told a reporter with the Santa Clarita Valley Area Young Democratic Club’s online newsletter. “Because if it can happen to us, it’s happening to other people, and it can happen to you, too.” n
Intern Christina Anaya contributed to this report.
For more on Gloria Killian’s book signing, call (818) 345-4189 or visit sistersincrimela.com. For more information on SAFE, visit safecalifornia.org.