Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, who spent two decades behind bars and was featured in the Netflix series “The Innocence Files,” is launching a campaign on Wednesday for California congressional seat targeted by Democrats trying to win back the US House.
As a 16-year-old, Carrillo was arrested for a drive-by shooting after police mistakenly identified him in a different case, according to The Northern California Innocence Project. After two trials, he was convicted of murder and six counts of attempted murder in 1992. He was sentenced to life in prison.
During his time in prison, his story got the attention of new attorneys and The Northern California Innocence Project. In 2011, Carrillo was exonerated when the eyewitnesses who had identified him as the shooter recanted their testimony and other men confessed to the shooting.
“I know what it feels like to be ignored, marginalized, forgotten about,” Carrillo says in his announcement video.
“There are people who abuse their power and benefit from the system. Then there’s the rest of us. We play by the rules and get screwed by the same exact system,” he says. “This is why I’m running for Congress against Mike Garcia.”
This northern Los Angeles County seat, which Biden carried by about 12 points in 2020, is an offensive target for House Democrats’ campaign arm. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up. GOP Rep. Mike Garcia won the district, which became more Democratic after redistricting, by 6 points last fall. It was the third time he’d defeated Democrat Christy Smith, who lost to the Republican twice in 2020 – first in a special election.
In order for Carrillo to take on Garcia next year, he’d first need to make it through what’s expected to be a competitive Democratic primary. George Whitesides, a former NASA chief of staff and aerospace entrepreneur, has already announced his campaign.
“We need leaders who believe in doing big things – like creating the jobs and companies of the future from the AV to Santa Clarita,” Whitesides said on Twitter. “That’s exactly what I’ve done: creating 700 jobs in the Antelope Valley alone. I’m running because I believe that our best days are ahead of us.”
Carrillo, who serves on the Probation Oversight Commission of Los Angeles County, told CNN there is a “need and desire for someone who’s genuine and different and who has true life experience.”
“It feels really good to be no longer in shackles in a blue jumpsuit, but to be a free man talking to the community and the nation overall,” said Carrillo. “And just to let them know that there are people who can endure, there are good people who will come to the aid of others. And ultimately, there are people who have been wronged by systems and social justice can prevail.”
Carrillo, who’s also a policy adviser for the Los Angeles Innocence Project, said he wants to focus on criminal justice reform and economic justice. He said there’s “a lot of great reform” in California, such as the moratorium on the death penalty, that he thinks can be implemented at the national level.
“We definitely have to think about this no longer as punishment, but more reform, and be more compassionate with those who made a momentary mistake in most cases,” Carrillo said.