Former Glendora resident Frank O’Connell has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Los Angeles County and the detectives he said were responsible for putting him behind bars for 27 years for a murder he always claimed he never committed.
O’Connell is seeking $1 million for each of the 27 years he spent in prison for violation of his civil rights, targeting the detectives in his original 1985 case and the L.A. County justice system.
A Pasadena judge overturned O’Connell’s conviction in April 2012 after a witness in O’Connell’s original 1985 trial recanted, saying he never got a clear look at the gunman. There was also evidence that the detectives in the original case withheld critical information that may have benefitted O’Connell’s defense.
O’Connell, a former Glendora High School star football player, was convicted in the 1984 murder of . Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department focused their investigation on O’Connell because they believed he was romantically involved with French’s ex-wife Jeanne Lyon. Lyon was embroiled in a bitter custody battle with French over their son, Jay Jr. Detectives said O’Connell fatally shot French to help Lyon gain custody of her son.
But there were problems with the defense’s star witness, who initially pointed to O’Connell as the man he saw shoot French at a South Pasadena apartment complex.
The witness, Daniel Druecker, later recanted, saying he was pressured by detectives to identify O’Connell although he admitted he never got a good look at the suspect. O’Connell’s attorneys also say that detectives withheld information regarding a previous attempt on French’s life by Lyon and another male companion who fit the physical description of the murder suspect.
O’Connell’s attorneys say it may be another two years before his case goes to trial in federal court.
O’Connell is currently living in Colorado where he works in a cabinet shop.
His family says if they win the case, they will donate half of the money to legal reform efforts.