Court records suggest that O’Connell may have been a casualty of police bias and his may truly have been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police focused on O’Connell early in their investigation because he had dated the ex-wife of the murder victim. As he lay dying, Jay French told police he believed his ex-wife had something to do with his shooting. French and his ex-wife were locked in a custody battle over their son.
O’Connell also had the misfortunate of sharing a similar physical description with the gunman. Witnesses to French’s shooting described the gunman as a tall and slender man with blond hair. O’Connell, a one-time Glendora High School football star, fit the bill.
O’Connell was ultimately convicted based on that eyewitness testimony. Now, 27 years later, that testimony fell into question after the prosecution’s key witness recanted his identification. The witness told the judge that he felt pressure by police to finger O’Connell and confessed that he was not able to get a really good look at the gunman who murdered French.
The witness’s about face followed other evidence that revealed that police may have improperly influenced their witnesses and failed to disclose records that implicated another suspect.
O’Connell’s release follows a series of cases and studies that have called into question the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Developments in the DNA testing have resulted in the release of number of people previously convicted on murder charges based on eyewitness testimony.
Whether O’Connell will be retried is still up for determination. The district attorney is still reviewing the remaining evidence to determine whether there is enough to retry the case.
Source: www.latimes.com, “Convicted Murderer Who Denied Guilt is Freed After 27 Years,” Jack Leonard, 22 April 2012