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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.”

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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