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Family of Slain South Pas Man Wants Justice in 28-Year-Old Murder

A judge overturned Frank O’Connell’s 1985 murder conviction. But the family of victim Jay French says O’Connell is getting away with murder.

It has been 28 years since Gina French’s husband, Jay, was shot to death, but the emotions are still raw.

Jay was 27 years old, a father of a young son who bore his name. And unbeknownst to both her and her husband, Gina said she was also pregnant with Jay’s second child.

But Jay was brutally murdered Jan. 5, 1984, shot in the back in the South Pasadena apartment where he both lived and worked as a maintenance man.

Before Jay died, he whispered clues to the identity of his killer, clues Gina and the French family say all pointed to one man–then 27-year-old Frank O’Connell.

But the former football standout during the entire 27 years he spent behind bars. And in March, a Pasadena judge found faults with the evidence of O’Connell’s original murder trial and overturned his 1985 conviction. He was released on $75,000 bail April 24 to the fanfare of media and supportive family and friends.

But French family members say O’Connell’s release opened old wounds that never really healed. Despite newly uncovered evidence O’Connell’s defense say will exonerate him, the French family still remain convinced it was O’Connell who pulled the trigger.

“Watching Frank get released was like Jay getting shot all over again,” said Jay’s sister Judy Baker.

‘Out on a Technicality’

Jay French’s family described him as a happy-go-lucky, charismatic young man who valued the importance of family. Gina recalls family outings going water skiing on the lake and winters riding ATV’s.

But Jay was embroiled in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife Jeanne Lyon over their son Jay Jr. Family members all point to Lyon as the instigator, someone who seemed to actively plot to gain custody of her son.

Gina claims Lyon kidnapped Jay Jr. on numerous occasions, forcing Jay Sr. to track down Lyon and his son.

Gina also claims Lyon made numerous threats on her ex-husband’s life.

“We all knew Jeanne was capable of doing something horrible,” said Gina. “It was just a matter of when.”

Then, on Jan. 5, 1984, at around 1 p.m., Jay was fatally shot. Gina and family members rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. Jay was gone.

Although Jay had been shot in the back, he was able to catch a glimpse of his murderer.

In his dying words, he described the yellow Ford Pinto he saw his shooter get away in. He didn’t know his name, but Jay recognized him as someone he had seen with his ex-wife.

Later, two eyewitnesses would pick O’Connell, who had briefly lived with Lyon, in a police lineup. One eyewitness claimed to have recalled O’Connell asking for a jumpstart on a yellow Pinto.

“How could two separate eyewitnesses pick Frank out in a lineup? They didn’t know Frank or ever seen him before the murder, but they picked him,” said Gina. “Frank is guilty by association. We all know Jeanne had a hand in this and Frank was involved with Jeanne.”

O’Connell claims his involvement with Lyon was purely platonic, and that he stopped living with her and all contact with her six months before the murder.

“The officers tried to say I had this love relationship with this woman and it was nothing like that,” said O’Connell. “She offered me a place to stay and I lived there. We didn’t have this boyfriend –girlfriend thing, it was just a convenience.”

One of the two main eyewitnesses in the case has since passed away, while the other recanted his testimony.

Still, the French family doesn’t buy the new evidence, or O’Connell’s claim of having three alibis at the time of the murder.

On the day O’Connell’s conviction was overturned, family members rallied at the courthouse wearing ribbons and photos of Jay and his son.

“Frank got out on a technicality but that doesn’t mean he’s innocent,” said Baker. “Nobody proved him innocent.”

Finding Closure

“I feel sorry for what [O’Connell] went through in prison, but there’s no one else to point the finger at,” said Gina. “The person [Jay] had after him was Jeanne and Frank hung with Jeanne.”

Lyon, the woman both the French family and O’Connell implicate with involvement in the shooting, has since disappeared to Oregon after Jay’s murder. She was never tried or convicted in Jay’s murder, a point the French family say they don’t understand.

“I was glad the person who did it got caught, but the person who caused it wasn’t caught,” said Gina. “Frank was a pawn in [Lyon’s] little game.  He may have done the deed, but she was the ringleader.”

O’Connell, who is making plans to move to Colorado to live closer to his son, said he is disappointed the French family continue to implicate him in Jay’s death.

“I’d like to sit and talk to them if they wish,” said O’Connell. “I wish they’d take a look at the transcripts, evidence and all the documentation – not just what’s presented in court – so they can see for themselves that I’m innocent. I didn’t kill their son.”

Gina French admits she never researched the evidence beyond what was relayed in court, but she feels she doesn’t need to.

, Gina said she hopes there will be justice for her husband.

“Frank gets released, where’s Jay? If he gets released then I want Jay to be replaced,” said Gina. “Frank went out and has gotten remarried and has stepchildren. Jay couldn’t watch his children grow up. What makes [Frank] think the 27 years in prison made up for what he did to Jay and my family? Jay’s family is still suffering. My son will never know his father.”

Baker echoed her sister-in-law’s heartache.

“I have nothing to say, I’m emotionally numb,” said Baker. “I just can’t believe there’s not going to be any accountability for my brother’s death.”

Regina Jameson May 19, 2012 at 10:22 PM
The sad thing about this is that the French family "believes" the court - "Gina French admits she never researched the evidence beyond what was relayed in court, but she feels she doesn’t need to." YOU NEED TO!! FACTS were LIES on the stand and now, the dectives got CAUGHT! READ THE TESTIMONY word for word. Jay NEVER said Frank O'Connell - but to read news articles - one "assumes." A technicicality was revealed AFTER the judge granted the hearing - when dectives LIED! ONE EYEWITNESS, not two... If you were to read ALL the trial testimony from day 1 to date - you will see that the DA, the dectives and the witnesses ALL lied - and even now admit to lying. I don't understand if one KNOWS so much about this case, and believes wholeheartedly ...."but she was the ringleader" - then why not make the State go after her!! Three alibilis - all stating the same and you "don't believe it!" - but you believed one witness when more than 5 others said it was NOT him! Again, READ testimony! The following statement sickens me: “I feel sorry for what [O’Connell] went through in prison, but there’s no one else to point the finger at,” said Gina. SOMEONE has to pay - just let him take the fall? Jeanne had MANY men in and out of her life - how about checking them out!! She tried 3 years prior to kill Jay - DOCUMENTED!! GET EDUCATED AND READ THE FACTS and you will see the DA and dectives are liars and just went to convict! Truth always prevails and will also here!
Bob K. May 20, 2012 at 06:29 AM
I am going to consider that these quotes were taken out of context or that Gina is an immigrant with English as her second language because her comments are at best, disturbing. To imply that someone is guilty by association or that there is no one else to point the finger at does not qualify as beyond a reasonable doubt in my book. It sounds as if Gina is pacified that as long as someone was connected to Jeanne Lyon that was good enough for her. I read the ruling from the judge and all I can say is the justice system failed on so many levels. The detectives appear outright incompetent. I have reviewed this with other law enforcement professionals and they confirmed it was sloppy, sub-par unprofessional work. It is beyond anyone's comprehension why Jeanne Lyon was not charged with in the least, conspiracy to commit murder. Hopefully, 48 hours, who I hear is doing a story, will do a better investigation than the original clowns assigned the case. I trust the French family wants true justice for Jay and not just accountability in general.
J. MC May 20, 2012 at 10:56 AM
You are right the French family is looking for justice! And yes we do believe mistakes were made many years ago. The justice system is all we have to count on tho! We are not the final judge or jury in this matter that will left up to God !! Jay French was a wonderfull loving and careing person ! I bet Frank O'CONNELL himself might have even liked him if he would have known him personally !!!! J.M.C
Jonna May 20, 2012 at 05:03 PM
No one is doubting that Jay French was a wonderful human being. It sounds like he was. That is no excuse for an incompetent investigation and conviction of an innocent person. There is no justice if Frank O'Connell was not murderer. I agree with Regina, if you don't know all of the facts then you are making a guilty finding based on emotions.
Bob K. May 20, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Unfortunately Jay was dealt a very bad hand the day he meet, married and had a child with Jeanne Lyon. She appeared to be a sociopath. I do hope she did not end up with the child. I find it disturbing that she, along with her boyfriend Randy Smith, attempted to run Jay down with their car. This was documented in a police report. We already know that we have one evil women and one man willing to kill for her. The law of averages, outside of a cult setting where you inspire the whole group at once, tells us that it is unlikely she could find more than one sucker willing to commit murder for her. I am sure Jay would have been less than pleased with the possibility that an innocent man was sent to prison for 27 years. I have investigated the group that advocated for Mr. O Connell and this is not a group that selects cases without merit. This is a very expensive undertaking and they are very selective. I think your God may be speaking to you here. It sounds to me that both families need to join forces if true justice is to prevail. I think we all know where the answer lies in this case. I hope there is a resolution for you that will bring you peace.9 It appears that has not been the case from the beginning. It is obvious who you feel was responsible. Guilty by association will never bring you that true peace. Keep advocating for Jay - the truth will set you free. God bless the French and O Connell families.
Bob K. May 21, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I should clarify that it was not my intention to be dissmissive of Gina French in regards to English as a second language. I work with many brillliant Asian scientists and because English is their second language I hear all kinds of odd twists and turns on English words and their meanings. It is a difficult language and the nuances can change the whole end result. Most times this was not the original intent when they were used. I am not sure if English is her second language, but thought it provided a good excuse for the comments. My opinion of the case is based on the transcripts only. I don't think Mr. O Connell was released on a technicality. I think he was the fall guy for the women who outsmarted everyone, as most sociopaths can do. I hope they take another look at the case using the A Team, instead of the incompetent, lazy D team. Here is the link that I drew my conclusions on: http://www.scribd.com/doc/88048836/Frank-O-Connell-Petition-Granted.
Sally Gorges November 25, 2012 at 05:03 AM
Having just watched the 48 hours episode about this case I am stunned that anyone in the French family would hold onto their belief in O'Connell's guilt without investigating the case is simply sticking their head in the sand. Jeanne Lyon had something to do with this and the people that investigated this case knew that she had tried to get this done before and they tainted the case against O'Connell with all of the witnesses. I wish that the French family would put as much time and energy into trying to find the killer or killers in this case and in trying very hard to take down the law officers that made sure that justice wasn't done for the murder of their loved one. I truly believe that if they would do this, they would find some relief and some peace instead of hanging onto this horrible mistake that was made. It is time that everyone in this country, a country that was founded on the belief of freedom and justice for all, realized that there is unbelievable injustice being done to people in this country everyday in our legal system. And each time that it happens, there are two victims: the person that is being wrongly convicted and the loved ones of the person the original crime was perpetrated against! This has to stop, or we will no longer be able to hold ourselves up as the protectors of human rights that we continually claim to be. We can no longer allow this kind of injustice to exist anywhere in this country!
Jenny November 25, 2012 at 05:51 AM
I could not have said it any better, I have study law it is very clear that the ex-wife needed to point fingers to get away with what should have been two trials. After all its stated a female was driving. I am sorry for the young boy who lost his father in what is a horrible act, however with that said if someone shot my husband I am not going to just sit by and not read every bit of the documents! As for the statement soneone has to pay how about getting the right person so that two children do not loose fathers. What is even worse is that since this case is so messed up its unlikely anyone will be brought to justice.
Phyllis Prater November 25, 2012 at 09:15 AM
The 48 Hour episode was infuriating. What do the detectives who first investigated this crime have to say for themselves? Our justice system is based on accountability and they need to be held accountable. Mr. O'Connell and his son are both remarkable people. The time stolen from them could have caused bitter, angry feelings; but what I saw was love, faith and forgiveness. Like his son said, it shows the character of the man. We should all strive to have that. I hope that the French family will soon be able to redirect their pain away from the other victim (Mr. O'Connell) and find some peace. When they forgive, their love for their lost shows.
Nancylp300 November 27, 2012 at 09:44 PM
While I feel great sympathy for the French family, there are some statements they have made that border on true ignorance, such as if Frank is set free he needs to be replaced..What happens if/when they find out that the original investigation was so badly botched that and innocent man spent 27 yrs in prison for a murder he simply didn't do. I have heard of other situations similar to this where the family of the victim do their own investigation only to realize the person even they thought was guilty simply wasn't, then they rally around the innocent to get them released but this family doesn't seem to care who's in prison for their loved ones death as long as someone is. Also, had they done a little pushing of their own they could have made sure that IF the mother of their grandson had anything to do with this that she is held accountable too but to sit back and totally trust such a flawed system seems lazy to me

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