Beverly White and David Gregory
Frank O'Connell always said he was innocent. Now, court officials are taking the possibility very seriously, after new evidence surfaces. He'll go free while a decision is made on a retrial
Few families want to visit Men's Central Jail.
But after waiting 27 years to see Frank O'Connell go free, his relatives made a welcome detour Friday night.
O'Connell, a former Glendora High School football star, served all that time for a crime he always said he did not commit.
Friday night, he was due to go free, after a judge in Pasadena ruled that he should be granted bail.
That decision followed an earlier ruling that threw out O'Connell's 1985 conviction for killing maintenance man Jay French in South Pasadena.
"All I want to do is hold him, hug him," said his mother, Rosemarie O'Connell. "And just thank God this is over with."
"I knew he was innocent and he was gonna get out," said sister Annajean Arbogast. "I didn't know how long it would take."
Relatives were giddy at the Pasadena courthouse as a prisoner bus took O'Connell away to Men's Central Jail for final release processing.
O'Connell's family members were mixing tears of joy with tears of sadness.
"I was ten when it happened," said sister Kathy Baker. "He missed my life. My kids, my husband. Now he gets to be a part of it. I'm really excited for that."
OConnell's father Dan died during his incarceration. Relatives now wear tribute bracelets in honor of the man they call "Fancy Frank" while his mom recounts the personal toll.
"I lost my faith in the system," said Rosemarie O'Connell. "I'm sure it’s a better system than in a lot of countries, but there are a lot of faults."
Judge Suzette Clover ruled that O'Connell's conviction should be overturned after a key witness backed off prior statements. There was also new evidence that Sheriff's Department detectives failed to disclose key records and may have improperly influenced witnesses.
O'Connell was an obvious suspect in the case from the start. French's dying words linked his ex-wife to his death. And O'Connell had had a relationship with the same ex-wife. His appearance seemed to match witness accounts.
But the case was never strong.
Despite the new developments, French's family members are not convinced. Some of them attended the hearing Friday, where O'Connell's bail was set at $75,000.
The family members say they hope the District Attorney will retry O'Connell. A decision could come on May 18, at the next court hearing in the case.