Even after nearly three decades in jail, Frank O’Connell, 54, proclaimed his innocence of a 1984 murder in South Pasadena.
On Friday, the former Glendora High School football star sat in the same courtroom where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison 27 years before, and listened to a Pasadena Court judge order his release on bail.
It was an emotional hearing for O’Connell and his family members, who for years have maintained his innocence of fatally shooting maintenance man Jay French in 1984, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“I’m going home,” he simply told reporters and photographers.
O’Connell must post $75,000 bail, a figure his family and supporters say they can post.
Pasadena Superior Court Judge Suzette Clover threw out O’Connell’s conviction March 29, finding several issues she said denied O’Connell of a fair trial – including a key witness in the case who later recanted his testimony.
The witness said he never got a clear look at French’s killer and felt pressured to identify a suspect during a photo lineup.
Clover also determined that the Sheriff’s Department may have failed to disclose records that pointed to another possible suspect, according to The Times.
O’Connell was originally linked to the murder case because of his romantic relationship with French’s ex-wife before the murder. Detectives said O’Connell matched the eyewitness’ description of the gunman.
However, members of French’s family, who wore T-shirts with images of French to the hearing, said they were disappointed with the ruling, adding that they hoped prosecutors would retry the case, according to The Times.
French’s wife Gina French told The San Gabriel Valley Tribune that she believed O’Connell is guilty, just as she did 27 years before.
The District Attorney will announce at a May 18 hearing whether there is enough evidence to retry the case.