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Civics & Democracy

Wrongly Convicted LA Man Who Spent 20 Years In Prison Is Running For Congress

Franky Carrillo stands smiling next to a metal fence in a field at his Lake Hughes ranch.
Franky Carrillo, pictured here at his Lake Hughes ranch, is running for Congress against Representative Mike Garcia.
(Franky Carrillo campaign)
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Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, who spent 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder, announced Wednesday he is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia in California’s 27th Congressional District next year. The district includes Santa Clarita, Lancaster and Palmdale.

Carrillo, 49, is a Democrat and a criminal justice reform advocate. The Republican Garcia handily beat Democratic challenger Christy Smith by eight percentage points in 2022, helping the GOP gain control of the House of Representatives.

But the seat is widely considered to be one of the most competitive in the country. President Biden beat former President Trump in the district by more than 12 percentage points.

Another Democrat, former Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, also has announced he’s challenging Garcia.

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A story featured on Netflix

“I know what it's like to be on the wrong end of a rigged system,” Carrillo states on his campaign website. “I’m running for Congress to fix a broken economic system that’s stacked against regular people. I will fight to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.”

After his exoneration and release from prison in 2011, Carrillo earned a law degree from Loyola Marymount University. He’s now a chief policy advisor for the Los Angeles Innocence Project and serves on the L.A. County Probation Oversight Commission.

The 1991 murder case against Carrillo hinged on the words of six teenage boys who had been standing with a man in Lynwood when the man was killed in a drive-by shooting.

The first witness to identify Carrillo had been given a book of photographs of gang members from which to pick out possible suspects. In a 2011 hearing to overturn Carrillo's conviction, the witness testified he picked out several other suspects before being steered by a sheriff's deputy towards identifying Carrillo.

The remaining witnesses were told Carrillo had already been identified by one eyewitness before also picking him out of a photo lineup, according to court filings.

In 2016, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved a $10.1 million payout to Carillo.

His story was featured on the Netflix series The Innocence Files.

In an interview with LAist, Carrillo said, “Having this lived experience would be very useful.” He said he would work to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would among other things establish a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions. Carrillo said he would also work to enhance crime prevention programs for youth.

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“Having someone who's been wronged by the criminal justice system and has been able to endure that and really believe in it after all that’s happened is the energy that I want to take to congress,” he said.

Garcia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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