LOS ANGELES—Frank O’Connell, a man who had been in prison for 27 years, has been released for false imprisonment and is expecting a $15 million settlement from the county.
O’Connell was a father, woodworker and former Glendora High School football star in 1984 when authorities arrested him for the murder of another mane. In an interview with KPCC, O’Connell said that when the police first arrested him he “thought it was a joke.” And, when a judge found him guilty, he “thought it would get worked out.”
He was accused of the murder of Jay French, who was shot twice at a South Pasadena apartment complex where he lived on January 5, 1984. According to court documents, before he died, French told a witness that the murderer was “the guy in the yellow Pinto” and that the incident had “something to do” with his ex-wife. O’Connell had a brief affair with French’s wife the summer before and the suspect in the shooting looked like him and jumpstarted a yellow Ford Pinto for a neighbor in the past. Authorities used that information as evidence to arrest O’Connell.
Daniel Druecker, one of the only witnesses to the murder, pointed O’Connell out in a lineup, and was pressured by detectives to single out O’Connell, as they believed enough evidence was stacked against him to put him behind bars. On April 16, 1985, O’Connell was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
He maintained his innocence while imprisoned. In 1998, O’Connell hired Centurion Ministries, a company that specializes in helping falsely imprisoned people. Kate Germond, the company’s lead investigator, took the case and pursued it for 12 years. She got an affidavit from Druecker, who said he was unable to identify to suspect and was, indeed, pressured to pick O’Connell. Germond got affidavits from five people in total. All five of them indicated that Jeannie Lyon, French’s ex-wife, had hired a hit man to kill French and that O’Connell was innocent. Centurion Ministries was able to pay O’Connell’s bail and free him in 2012.
In 2013, O’Connell took the county to court over the mental pain, physical pain, and “extreme mental anguish” he endured in prison and for missing his son’s childhood. His son was four years old when O’Connell was arrested.
The case took 4 years to be resolved. Ron Kaye, O’Connell’s lawyer indicated that the police department was interested in “the politics of not being seen as doing anything wrong,” than in actually accepting their mistake, leading to the lengthy process. The county admits no wrongdoing in the case, standing by Druecker’s original identification. They have agreed to one of the largest settlements in false imprisonment history, rewarding O’Connell $15 million for the time he lost, while behind bars.
When he was first released in 2012, O’Connell was interviewed by the Huffington Post. During the interview, he stated:
“I feel great. Getting acclimated back into society is going to take a little while, but the excitement, the love and the joy I’ve been receiving from everyone, as well as the well-wishing and prayers, helps.”