An attorney for the man accused in the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and a teenage girl opened the defense’s case Monday by citing more than 20 DNA tests of victims’ clothing and sexual assault kits that excluded his client as a contributor.
“Lonnie Franklin was excluded as the source of the major DNA profile. The minor portion was inconclusive,” defense attorney Seymour Amster told the jury over and over again in his opening statement, referencing samples taken from victims’ bodies or clothing.
In each instance, Amster detailed the number of other sources of DNA found in semen and other swabs and samples.
In the case of teenage victim Princess Berthomieux, for example, “there was other DNA found that was not associated with the defendant,” Amster said.
Berthomieux was one of two victims who were strangled by their attacker. Scrapings from under her fingernails were tested in the event that she scratched her assailant while fighting back.
Lab technicians found “a minimum of three contributors and at least two were male and Lonnie Franklin was excluded as a potential source,” Amster said.
In the case of the other strangulation victim, the results were inconclusive.
The defense attorney mentioned a handful of instances in which his client was found to be a source or potential source of DNA and many others in which the results were inconclusive.
The zip tie of the “bag that Miss (Janecia) Peters, unfortunately, was found in” was tested for DNA, and Franklin was determined to be a “potential contributor,” Amster said, before adding that jurors would hear more about how technicians made their DNA calculations.
That’s not the only expert testimony the defense apparently plans to challenge.
“You’re also going to hear testimony concerning firearm toolmark analysis,” Amster said, prompting Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman to object and call for a sidebar discussion.
The defense plans to dispute the reliability of such analysis, the defense attorney told jurors following the sidebar.
“Picking and choosing stria (lines and grooves made by a bullet) is not an exact science,” Amster said.
The defense attorney also told jurors that the one surviving victim, Enietra Washington, told a friend that more than one person had assaulted her.
The defense attorney previewed the testimony of that friend, Linda Lewis, also known as Linda Johnson.
“She knew Enietra Washington on the fateful day that Enietra Washington was shot,” Amster said.
After calling 911, Lewis sat down with her friend, he said.
“Enietra says repeatedly, ‘They raped her,”‘ Amster said, telling the jury that she “repeatedly used the word ‘they’ and not a single person.”
“None of Lonnie Franklin’s DNA was found on any of that clothing. None,” the defense attorney said of Washington’s garments.
Technicians found DNA contributed by “up to nine donors or more” — “a mixture that is too complex to individualize the donor,” Amster said.
Earlier this morning, outside the presence of the jury, Amster had threatened to rest the defense case without presenting any defense or calling a single witness over the judge’s planned rejection of a subpoena relating to the handling of evidence.
Amster said he wants to subpoena Los Angeles Police Department records over the “chain of custody” of evidence relating to the victims.
Los Angeles Superior Court Kathleen Kennedy said she planned to quash the subpoena, calling it too broad and saying much of the information being requested had already been made available during the prosecution’s case.
When Amster threatened to simply rest his case without presenting a defense, Kennedy said she would give Amster 72 hours to narrow his request.
The defense attorney said he believes the LAPD can print out the information he wants in less than an hour, but he believes the City Attorney’s Office is working with prosecutors to block his access to the information.
Prosecutors denied any such cooperation.
Silverman had several objections of her own to requests made by Amster, including a last-minute bid to add a witness on firearm toolmark analysis.
The pair sparred for nearly two hours before jurors were brought into the courtroom, with Silverman at one point saying she was “completely disgusted that the County of Los Angeles … pays hundreds of thousands of dollars … (to defense attorneys who) don’t play by the rules,” accusing Amster of “trial by ambush” and turning the courtroom into a “circus.”
Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a 63-year-old former city garage attendant and sanitation worker, is charged with murdering nine women, who were mostly in their 20s, and a 15-year-old girl and dumping their bodies in alleys and trash bins in and around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Franklin is also charged with the attempted murder of Washington, who survived being shot in the chest and pushed out of a moving vehicle in November 1988.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Franklin.
During the prosecution’s case-in-chief, Washington identified Franklin in court as her assailant and said he took a Polaroid-type photo of her after shooting her.
Jurors also watched a videotape of Franklin being interrogated by LAPD detectives. He denied killing anyone, but called one of the victims “butt ugly” and another “fat” after the detectives showed him photos of them.
In her opening statement last month, Silverman told jurors that DNA and firearms evidence linked Franklin to the attacks.
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 in the killings.
Most of the victims were shot in the chest or strangled, Silverman said.
The prosecutor said all of the victims were “connected to the same serial killer” either through DNA evidence or firearms evidence.
“And that serial killer, ladies and gentlemen, is the defendant Lonnie Franklin,” Silverman told the jury.
Eight of the victims were linked through firearms evidence, and DNA collected from seven of the victims was linked to the same male profile, she said, noting that the male profile was matched to “the defendant’s unique DNA profile” during an LAPD task force investigation into the killings.
Franklin is charged with murdering:
— Debra Jackson, 29, who was found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;
— Henrietta Wright, 34, who was shot twice in the chest and found dead in an alley on Aug. 12, 1986;
— Barbara Ware, 23, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;
— Bernita Sparks, 26, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in a trash bin on on April 15, 1987;
— Mary Lowe, 26, who was shot in the chest and found dead in an alley on Nov. 1, 1987;
— Lachrica Jefferson, 22, who was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Jan. 30, 1988;
— Alicia Alexander, 18, who was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and found in an alley on Sept. 11, 1988;
— Princess Berthomieux, 15, who was strangled and discovered in an alley in Inglewood on March 19, 2002;
— Valerie McCorvey, 35, who was strangled with a ligature and found dead at the entrance to an alley on July 11, 2003; and
— Janecia Peters, 25, who was shot in the back and found dead inside a sealed plastic trash bag in a trash bin in an alley on Jan. 1, 2007.
Authorities said after Franklin’s arrest that he was identified as a suspect using familial DNA — investigators determined that his son had DNA similar to the killer, and when they subsequently got Franklin’s DNA, his genetic material allegedly matched forensic evidence from eight killings between 1985 and 1988, and three killings between 2001 and 2007.
Detectives have said since Franklin was taken into custody in July 2010 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.
—City News Service
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