Attorneys and a judge Monday began questioning roughly six dozen prospective jurors for the trial of the man charged in the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and a teenage girl between 1985 and 2007.
About 300 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires last month as attorneys began the process of selecting a panel to hear the case against Lonnie Franklin Jr.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy told the prospective panelists the trial will be a “complicated” case that has “garnered a fair amount of publicity.”
Would-be jurors were asked to answer 176 questions covering an exhaustive range of issues, including their religious and political beliefs, attitudes toward law enforcement and mental health professionals, and understanding of DNA evidence.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty, and questions by Kennedy and attorneys for the prosecution and defense focused solely on the potential jurors’ views on capital punishment.
Kennedy spoke to each prospective juror individually, seeking to clarify contradictions and determine whether they could be fair and impartial in deciding the capital case.
“The death penalty is a very sensitive subject and there are many different opinions,” Kennedy told those assembled in the courtroom.
Kennedy said she wasn’t looking for a “right” answer from jurors, but to understand what was in any prospective panelist’s “heart and mind.”
She asked one man to explain his written comment that he believed the death penalty was meant “to rid society of human garbage.”
The would-be juror told Kennedy he meant that the penalty should be reserved for the worst, most irredeemable criminals. He assured her that if the trial reached the penalty phase, he would be able to fairly weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and choose either life in prison without the possibility of parole or death as the most appropriate punishment.
Others said they couldn’t condemn a man to death regardless of his crime. Still others said they favored the death penalty as a deterrent.
At the end of the day, after the attorneys had a chance to ask questions of their own, Kennedy called the numbers of about one-third of the potential jurors and dismissed them from further service.
The balance will return on Friday to answer questions on topics other than capital punishment. In the meantime, Kennedy warned them not to read any news coverage of the case.
A second, third and fourth pool of possible jurors will be called tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday to go through the same drill.
Franklin, a 63-year-old one-time city employee, sat quietly throughout the jury selection process, dressed in a well-pressed gray shirt and a silver gray tie that his defense attorney had fashioned in a Windsor knot before the panel of would-be jurors entered the room.
Franklin is charged with the murders of nine women — who were mostly in their 20s — and a 15-year-old girl. The bodies were dumped in alleys and trash bins in and around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated areas. He is also charged with the attempted murder of another woman.
The killings occurred between 1985 and 1988, and 2002 and 2007, with the assailant dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because of the apparent 13-year break between killing sprees.
Detectives have said since Franklin’s arrest that they were also investigating whether he might be connected to the disappearances or deaths of eight other women whose photos were found in his home near 81st Street and Harvard Boulevard.
The trial is expected to last about three months. The lists of potential witnesses submitted by the prosecution and defense and included with the jury questionnaire run to more than 400 names.
—City News Service