by Franky Carrillo, Jr. for LMU

In January 1991, Franky Carrillo JR., 16, was arrested at his family’s home for the murder of Donald Sarpy in Lynwood, California. Despite professing his innocence, Carrillo was tried as an adult and convicted on witness testimony. Years later, his case was taken up by the Northern California Innocence Project, and in 2011, after witnesses recanted, Carrillo was exonerated. On a sunny March afternoon, he walked away from two decades in prison for a wrongful conviction. This is his story.

“How could this be happening? When will the truth set me free? Where are the adults? I want to go home.” For 20 long years, I went to bed and woke up asking myself those painful questions.

I was 16 years old when I was handcuffed, arrested and taken away from my family and society, never, I thought, to be seen or heard from again. The accusations against me were false. The investigators and eyewitnesses swore to tell the truth but, instead, gave false testimony. The jury was persuaded, and before my life had a chance to begin, it ended: “We, the jury, find Francisco Carrillo Jr. guilty of first-degree murder.”

On the day of my sentencing, the judge rang me up: 25 years to life, plus five years for use of a firearm, plus six life sentences to run concurrently. The grand total was 30 years to life, plus an additional life sentence. I was forced to pay for a crime I didn’t commit with the entirety of my life…

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