In 1989, then 20-year-old Michael Pizarro became famous – for all the wrong reasons. He was accused, and then convicted, of sexually assaulting and then murdering (CA Penal Code §187) his 13-year-old half-sister, Amber Barfield. 24 years later, no one can be sure whether or not Pizarro did it. On the one hand, there is a good bit of circumstantial evidence to link him to the crime and, on the other hand, there’s no real proof to be spoken of in the case. The latest issue, in Pizarro’s third trial on the matter, is the fact that a juror used the Internet to research the previous trials and applied that forbidden information to his decision.
There are some things that are known about the case – Pizarro had been drinking the entire afternoon of the incident, for one. When his then wife, Sandy, took their infant child and his half-sister, Amber, to look for him after an argument at a local party, Pizarro acted strangely, running away from them and, at one point, even lying down in the street in front of their vehicle. Amber exited the truck and went into a nearby field to look for him, Sandy heard a scream and saw the light from Amber’s flashlight, and the girl was found the next morning close to the same area. She had been sexually assaulted and smothered to death. DNA evidence shows that someone of the same blood type as the accused had committed the crime, but Pizarro insists it was not he. Instead, he says he threw the flashlight at Amber and left her in the field, then passed out in some nearby bushes.
So, why has this case gone on so long? One answer could be that he’s the luckiest man in California. The other answer is that he is simply not guilty. The real question is whether or not Pizarro, who, by all accounts loved his sister and had never been known to exhibit animosity toward her, should now be allowed to live out his life in peace. If three different juries found it difficult to make a decision in the case, then there is certainly room for reasonable doubt. The Attorney General’s Office is considering an appeal of this latest decision and intends to continue to attempt to prosecute Pizarro to the fullest extent of the law. Did the justice system fail Amber Barfield or has it failed Michael Pizarro for the past 24 years?