LA DA's Race 2020

The DA’s Race is Still Balancing on a Razor’s Edge — Plus Another Elections Story Involving Franky Carrillo, a Man Wrongly Imprisoned For 20 Years

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

More than a week has passed since March 3rd’s maddeningly-flawed voting day, and the much-watched race for Los Angeles County District Attorney remains unresolved.

There is still a reasonable chance that DA Jackie Lacey will have won a third term without having to face one of her challengers in a runoff that would take place in November.

Yet, while DA Lacey is still close to winning outright, with each successive release of a vote count, the numbers have moved away from a Lacey victory, and toward a recount, however slight that incremental movement may be.

When we posted the count last Friday (new vote tallies are released by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder on Tuesday and Friday), Lacey had exactly 50.00 percent of the vote, or 615,864 individual votes.

According to the count released in the early evening of March 10, Lacey’s count had gone up to 691,958 votes, but she had dropped just a shred of a percentage point, down to 49.94 percent.

As of now, former longtime cop and retired San Francisco DA George Gascon remains in the second position with his slice of the vote total going up slightly to 27.68 percent or 383.183 votes (up from 337,962 votes).

Former public defender, Rachel Rossi, is still close-ish behind Gascón, but like Lacey, Rossi’s percentage has dropped very slightly from 22.56 percent to 22.40 percent of the pie, or 310,412 votes.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, the DA’s race has drawn in an unusual amount of money from various interest groups, and stimulated a lot of strong feelings on all sides of the race.

A runoff would give two candidates the chance to make clearer why each of them should be the one to lead the nation’s largest local district attorney’s office into the future.

Measure R, Jasmyne Cannick, & Wrongly-Convicted Franky Carrillo

Measure R maintained its sweep with 1,022,014 votes or 71.95 percent.

This is the historic grassroots-led ballot initiative designed to empower the Civilian Oversight Commission charged with overseeing the LA County Sheriff’s Department, by granting it subpoena power, apart from its current investigative arm, which is the Office of the Inspector General. The initiative would also require the county to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing LA’s reliance on its jails, particularly when it comes to Los Angeles residents who are struggling with mental health issues.

One of Measure R’s early champions, and also a consultant and strategist for the campaign, Jasmyne Cannick, has already received enough votes to be elected as a representative from the 53rd Assembly District* to the LA County Democratic Central Committee.

And while we’re on the topic the new slate of members elected to that county political body, one heartening, but far less known story of the March 3 election is that of Francis “Franky” Carrillo, who has been elected as a representative from the 51st Assembly District** to the same LA County Democratic Central Committee.

These representatives are non-paid positions, but the representatives on both the Republican and Democratic sides must be elected by the rest of us. And for those who would like to take a first step into politics, this is one time-honored way to do it.

Carrillo was listed as a “criminal justice advocate” on the ballot, but his story is much more interesting than that.

We’ve written about Franky Carrillo several times, most notably in July of 2016 when the LA County Supervisors voted to award a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million to him for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment — at the time, the largest per anum settlement for wrongful imprisonment in California history.

Franky Carrillo was a sixteen-year-old high school student when he was arrested for the 1991 drive-by murder of Donald Sarpy, after In 1992, after two trials, the first with a hung jury, Carrillo was convicted of the murder, along with multiple counts of attempted murder, for which he was given a life sentence, plus a second sentence of 30-to-life. The two sentences were to run consecutively, reducing the chance of Carrillo ever getting paroled to zero.

Throughout two criminal trials, and his 20 years in custody, Mr. Carrillo continued to insist that he was innocent. While in prison, he studied law, and wrote everyone he could think of try to get someone to help with his case. When at first that failed, Carrillo filed his own habeas petition. He also refused any plea bargain that involved an “explicit or implicit admission of guilt.”

Finally,  fifteen years into his sentence, an attorney responded to his letters and decided to look into Carrillo’s case.

Finally, on July 26, 2011, after a weeklong evidentiary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo granted Carrillo’s habeas corpus request and vacated his sentence. To its credit, the LA District attorney’s office neither appealed the ruling, nor attempted to re-file charges.

And so it was that Franky Carrillo was released from custody on March 16, 2011, after having been locked up continuously since January 24, 1991.

How the jury came to convict the teenager with no previous criminal record is a long and disturbing story.  Much of it reportedly had to do with coerced teenage witnesses who later recanted.

According to Carrillo’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Ron Kaye, it also hinged on the actions of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff named Craig Ditsch, now retired, an admitted member of the Lynwood “Vikings,” and a close supporter — according to Ditsch — of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka (who is now serving time in federal prison).

Since his release, Carrillo has obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Loyola Marymount University, has gotten married, become a devoted family man raising three kids, and has turned himself into a respected justice reform advocate in the state of California.

Carrillo also briefly and unsuccessfully ran for office in 2017. With this month’s win, it appears he is reentering the political world, this time starting from a grassroots perspective.

And, in case you’re in need of some uplifting news during the Purell-haunted days and weeks that appear to loom ahead of us, Franky Carrillo’s story will be featured in a documentary series on Netflix next month called The Innocence Files.  So tune in.

The estimated number of ballots still to be counted in the 2020 LA County primary election is 493,450.

The next count should be announced early Friday night.   Naturally, we’ll be back then with additional news.

The photo above is a screenshot of the one and only debate that featured all three candidates in the race.

** Originally we wrote that the representatives to the LA County Democratic Central Committee are elected from Congressional districts when it is, of course, Assembly districts.  The error was corrected at 10:30 p.m. March 12, 2020


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