An attorney for the man charged in the “Grim Sleeper” murders of nine women and a teenage girl told jurors Tuesday that the killings — which occurred over a period of two decades — could have been committed by a “mystery man,” but a prosecutor countered that there was no evidence of anyone else being connected to the crimes.
“Each and every murder in this case could have been done by the mystery man with the mystery gun and the mystery DNA,” defense attorney Seymour Amster told the seven-woman, five man panel during his closing argument in Lonnie David Franklin’s trial.
“It’s our position that there’s a nephew or youngster who’s involved that did each and every murder,” Amster said, telling the Los Angeles Superior Court jury there was “insufficient evidence” that Franklin was involved in the crimes.
In her rebuttal argument, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said the defense’s theory had “no evidence to support it” and urged jurors not to engage in speculation.
“If there is a mystery man out there, where is his DNA?” the prosecutor asked. “The only DNA profile that repeats itself again and again is the defendant’s.”
Jurors — who heard two days of closing arguments — are due back in court Wednesday morning to begin deliberations.
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 around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated Los Angeles County. The murder charges include a 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, she identified Franklin as her assailant and said he took a Polaroid-type photo of her after shooting her.
Franklin’s attorney noted that Washington had testified that her assailant told her before shooting her that he had to stop at his uncle’s house to pick up money, after she agreed to get in his car while walking to a friend’s home. Amster questioned whether the assailant may have had a family link to Franklin or known him.
He also told jurors that thousands of dollars were recovered from Franklin’s property in a police search in 2010, and suggested that a composite sketch of Washington’s assailant looks like a “youngster,” and “not the uncle.”
“Some times you can have a play aunt or a play uncle,” Amster said, noting that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a blood relative. “We have in this case a mystery man.”
The defense attorney said his client “for better or worse is good at picking up women, having sex with them,” but questioned why he would “ever kill … the women of his pleasure.” He said someone else may have coveted what the married father of two grown children had.
In her rebuttal argument, Silverman told jurors, “Why would the defendant kill his own pleasure? Why? Because he enjoys it. That’s what a serial killer does.”
Calling the evidence against Franklin “so substantial,” the prosecutor said the only reasonable interpretation of the case is that Franklin is “a serial killer” who is responsible for the “cold-blooded murders” of 10 people and the attempted murder of Washington.
The prosecutor suggested to jurors that Washington’s assailant may have lied to her about going to his uncle’s house to get money when he was actually going home to get a gun after encountering her unexpectedly.
“We don’t even know if he has a nephew. Neither do you,” Silverman said of the defendant.
She said the defense’s closing argument marked the first reference during the trial to a “mystery man” with a “mystery gun” and “mystery DNA.”
The prosecutor noted that jurors had not heard any testimony about a DNA profile that was similar to but not matching the defendant, saying what they had heard was that “it’s a match.”
She also questioned whether it was reasonable that Franklin would have the Polaroid-type photo of Washington stashed behind a wall in his garage if someone else had committed the crime.
Franklin’s attorney told jurors that Washington’s testimony marked the only direct evidence in what was otherwise a “circumstantial evidence case,” and questioned why she was only shown a photo of Franklin — and not photos of other men — when she was asked to identify her assailant.
Amster said there was inaccurate information on an evidence envelope containing the photo of her after it was seized, and called question to DNA and ballistics evidence that the prosecution contends links Franklin to the killings..
“Nothing in this case has evidence that is not questionable,” he said.
Amster told jurors that “the lack of evidence in this case compels you to find Mr. Franklin not guilty.” He noted that the panelists are anonymous, which gives them the ability to make a decision without worrying about public pressure.
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. All of them were either shot — mostly in the chest — with a .25-caliber firearm or strangled.
Franklin is charged with murdering:
— Debra Jackson, 29, found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;
— Henrietta Wright, 34, 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, shot once in the chest and found under a pile of debris and garbage in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;
— Bernita Sparks, 26, shot once in the chest and found in a trash bin with her shirt and pants unbuttoned on April 15, 1987;
— Mary Lowe, 26, shot in the chest and found in an alley with her pants unzipped behind a large shrub on Nov. 1, 1987;
— Lachrica Jefferson, 22, 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, 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, strangled and discovered naked and hidden in shrubbery in an alley in Inglewood on March 19, 2002;
— Valerie McCorvey, 35, strangled and found dead with her clothes pulled down at the entrance to a locked alley on July 11, 2003; and
— Janecia Peters, 25, shot in the back and found naked inside a sealed plastic trash bag in a trash bin in an alley on Jan. 1, 2007.
— City News Service
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