Last Sunday I went to Roger Wolfson's residence in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Very nice house with an amphitheater in the garden. It was an event organized by SAFE. Mike Farrell (Captain Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H*) was a guest speaker and I would have gone just to hear him. I met him before and he is an eloquent and indefatigable fighter for human rights.
But the main attraction was Franky Carrillo, someone I had not heard of, who was going to speak in support of Proposition 34 to end the death penalty in California.
I am very much against the death penalty but I did not know very much about Proposition 34 and its chances.
Actually my girlfriend got the invitation and she RSVPed so it was her idea.
I am very happy I went along.
Roger (who is a great guy and intends to have events like this one in his house often) introduced Mike Farrell.
Mike Farrell spoke with his usual brilliance against the death penalty. How although 60% of Americans believe it makes sense it doesn't. How we are in very bad company among the nations of the world. Out of 190 countries in the UN 138 do not have death penalty and out of the remaining 22 do not use it leaving us in the company of such human rights bastions as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. Here is some info. It turns out we are #5 in the world in death penalty executions. He also explained that in California it costs $135,000,000/year to keep the death penalty going even without executions. 17 states have already abolished the death penalty. If California approves Proposition 34 it may be a huge turning point. I remember saying that polls indicate that there is a 60% support for Prop 34.
And then he introduced Franky Carrillo.
Franky was falsely accused of murder in 1991 when he was only 16 years old. Last year he was released after the witnesses who originally identified him recanted.
20 years in prison falsely accused. Tried as an adult. The only witnesses who testified he was not near the crime scene because he was at home were his own father and his siblings. The 6 witnesses who identified him were manipulated or pressured by the sheriff department. His father, a Mexican immigrant who did not speak English died 10 years after the wrongful conviction horribly distraught because of the injustice.
Franky is a very special person. Unlike others who have been wrongfully accused, he never lost hope and never gave up.
In Flosom prison, as he explained, it is not a good idea to tell everyone you are innocent, specially convicted murderers. Folsom prison is not a safe environment to say the least;
On August 27, 2010, seven federal inmates at Folsom were admitted to a hospital after corrections officers discharged firearms during a riot involving 200 inmates.Franky educated himself. He is very eloquent and has become a writer. Check out this Huff Post by him; Innocent & Executed: It Could Have Been Me
He learned the law, he tried everything, he persisted but the system is heavily stacked against Latino gang members (he wasn't one) convicted of murder.
One day, 18 years, into his life without parole prison term, he talked to a prison teacher (in prison he became a certified optician and a Braille transcriber). The teacher was on her last day and he asked her to tell any lawyer on the outside about his case. The teacher (I forget her name) believed in his innocence and she did meet Deputy Public Defender Ellen Eggers who had defended countless accused murderers unsuccessfully. Ellen decide to take up his case. She in turn contacted Linda Starr of the Northern California Innocence Project.
Here is a more detailed account of what happened after than I can give;
The pair went to work trying to find all the witnesses along with attorneys and an investigator from the law firm of Morrison and Foerster. It took years. When they were finally questioned, all of the men said they couldn't positively identify Carrillo as the shooter.
Eggers told AOL News that a detective questioning one of the boys showed him a series of six pictures -- including Carrillo's -- and asked him to pick out the shooter. The boy picked Carrillo with the help of the detective.
"The kid told us that the cop picked out the picture and said, 'It's him,'" Eggers said. "Within the next six months, they were all brought into the station. During that time, the information got communicated between them to pick out the no. 1 photo, and it was described to them."
The picture was different from the rest: It was taken outside by police as Carrillo was riding his bike through a park.
"He was nowhere near that location. He wasn't there; he knew nothing about it," Starr said of Carrillo's involvement with the shooting.
Neither the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which investigated the case, nor the District Attorney's Office would comment on the case.
So after a hearing with a judge, the judge overturned the conviction and the prosecutor did not object.
The prosecutor also spoke on Sunday, he and Franky have become friends and he explained some of the details of the hearing. This was very comforting. Good people exist at all levels of the justice system and they can make a difference. But as we know the justice system is flawed.
How many innocent people have been executed in America? We don't know. But I bet you it is more than most people think. Proposition 34 replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment. Perhaps other Franky Carrillos will emerge if they are given a chance.
Let's not even talk about the atrocity of "botched" executions.
Franky was so inspirational. If he can make it through his ordeal and come out such a wonderful person so ready to help all of us, so free of any rancor, so well educated, there is hope for all of us whatever our circumstances.
He has become a spokesperson for Proposition 34 which I hope passes in November. Come on fellow Californians, let's show everyone that we are ready to join the civilized world. You know it's the right thing to do.
Franky will write a book about his life. Many in the audience asked when there was going to be a film but he was smart enough to say that he did not think that a 2 hour film could properly tell all he had to say. So book first and then film perhaps. I can't wait.
Like everyone there I believe that Franky will go places, some even asked him if he contemplated politics. I will try to get him to blog here.
Here he is on YouTube, there areothers;