An “overwhelming” amount of evidence points to the guilt of a man accused in the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and teenage girl, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, saying the defendant murdered defenseless victims and disposed of them like trash.
One of Lonnie David Franklin Jr.’s defense attorneys, however, questioned the reliability of scientific evidence the prosecution contends links his client to the killings, and asked jurors to question whether patterns suggested by prosecutors were actually an “illusion.”
Franklin faces a possible death sentence if convicted of killing the nine women, 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.
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
The 63-year-old former city garage attendant and sanitation worker is also charged with the attempted murder of Enietra Washington, who survived being shot in the chest and pushed out of a moving vehicle in November 1988.
In testimony Feb. 25 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, she identified Franklin in court as her assailant and said he took a Polaroid-type photo of her after shooting her.
In her closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors that Washington’s account provides “sort of a blueprint … for the murdered women who can’t speak and tell you what happened,” and that ballistics testing on the bullet taken from Washington during surgery has showed that the same gun was used to kill seven other people. The prosecutor said the “trophy” photo that Washington said was taken after she was shot was found more than 20 years later “behind a wall in the defendant’s garage” and that the hidden item provided “evidence of consciousness of guilt.”
A gun determined by prosecution experts to have been used in the shooting death of the final victim was found in one of the bedrooms at Franklin’s home, the prosecutor said.
“Ten young women, all of them cruelly murdered by that man, the defendant, Lonnie Franklin,” pointing at the defendant on the other side of the courtroom.
Silverman showed jurors photos of all of the victims, telling the panel an “overwhelming amount of evidence” links Franklin to the “horrendous crimes.”
“All pointing to one person as the killer — this defendant,” Silverman said, noting at one point that most had been dead for over two decades.
The prosecutor said the 10 victims had distinct similarities, all of them young black females, all of whom were dumped in “filthy alleys” after being killed elsewhere. She said Franklin “dumped his victims like trash in alleys and trash bins,” some missing underwear or shoes, and some completely naked. All of them were either shot — mostly in the chest — with a .25- caliber firearm or strangled.
The victims were all dumped within one to four miles from Franklin’s residence, Silverman said, noting that two victims whose killings were separated by two decades were found about a block apart. The latter of the two victims was folded into a “fetal position” and put into a trash bag closed with a zip tie that contained DNA that was a match with Franklin’s DNA, Silverman said.
“The defendant is a serial killer who was basically hiding in plain sight,” Silverman said, referring at one point to Franklin as a “sexual predator” who degraded his victims.
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.
Silverman said during the trial that all of the victims were “connected to the same serial killer” either through DNA evidence or firearms evidence, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Seymour Amster — who is set to continue his closing argument Tuesday — said there were “some questions that need to be answered” about the attack on Washington, while telling jurors the rest of the prosecution’s case is based on circumstantial evidence.
Amster told jurors that “the government must show there are no reasonable interpretations (of the evidence) pointing to innocence.”
The defense attorney said jurors were being asked to make one of the most important decisions of their lives based on “inferior technology and science,” saying it was not up to the standard that would be used in private industry.
Franklin’s attorney acknowledged that his client was “obsessed with sex,” while adding that it “doesn’t make him a murderer.”
He noted that jurors had seen a “sex tape” of Franklin with a woman who “seemed to be smiling” and that one of Franklin’s friends testified to seeing the married man with “lots of girls” but never saw him behaving violently with any of them.
When the defense started its portion of the case last month, Amster cited 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,” 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.
Amster also questioned Washington’s testimony, saying she told a friend that more than one person assaulted her. He told jurors that Washington “repeatedly used the word ‘they’ and not a single person.”
He also questioned testimony during the prosecution’s case about the reliability of firearm toolmark analysis.
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 in an alley with a cloth gag stuffed in her mouth on Aug. 12, 1986;
— Barbara Ware, 23, who was shot once in the chest and found under a pile of debris and garbage in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;
— Bernita Sparks, 26, who was shot once in the chest and found in a trash bin with her shirt and pants unbuttoned on April 15, 1987;
— Mary Lowe, 26, who was shot in the chest and found in an alley with her pants unzipped behind a large shrub on Nov. 1, 1987;
— Lachrica Jefferson, 22, who was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest — with a napkin over her face with the handwritten word “AIDS” on it — in an alley on Jan. 30, 1988;
— Alicia Alexander, 18, who was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and found naked under a blue foam mattress in an alley on Sept. 11, 1988;
— Princess Berthomieux, 15, who was strangled and discovered naked and hidden in shrubbery in an alley in Inglewood on March 19, 2002;
— Valerie McCorvey, 35, who was strangled with a ligature and found dead with her clothes pulled down at the entrance to a locked alley on July 11, 2003; and
— Janecia Peters, 25, who was shot in the back and found naked 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 that since Franklin was taken into custody in July 2010, they have also been 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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