Ending a murder mystery that spanned three decades, a former Los Angeles city garage attendant and sanitation worker was convicted Thursday of the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and a teenage girl, along with the attempted murder of another woman.
Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 63, faces a possible death sentence for the killings, with jurors finding true a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. A penalty phase of trial will be held for jurors to recommend whether Franklin should be put to death or sent to prison without the possibility of parole.
That phase of the case is scheduled to begin May 12.
After about three months of trial, a seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for about 1 1/2 days before convicting Franklin of all the charges against him, rejecting a defense claim that an unknown assailant was responsible for the killings, which dated back to the mid-1980s.
The verdict was reached shortly after the jury sent Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy a note asking about discrepancies involving the dates on two of the charges against Franklin.
Earlier, the judge responded to a note sent Wednesday in which jurors asked if it was “proper to ask how the defendant became a suspect initially.” Kennedy told jurors there was “no evidence” presented during the trial on that subject and that she could not provide jurors with any further information on the topic.
Franklin’s adult victims were mostly in their 20s, along with a 15-year- old girl. He dumped their bodies in alleys and trash bins around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Franklin was also convicted of 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 stared straight ahead and showed no reaction as the jury verdicts were read. Some relatives of the victims wept quietly in the courtroom audience.
Authorities said after Franklin’s arrest he was identified as a suspect using familial DNA — investigators determined that his son had DNA similar to the killer, and when they subsequently obtained Franklin’s DNA, his genetic material allegedly matched forensic evidence from eight killings between 1985 and 1988, and three killings between 2001 and 2007.
Jurors began their deliberations Wednesday after hearing two days of closing arguments from attorneys.
Defense attorney Seymour Amster told jurors the killings could have been committed by a “mystery man,” but Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman countered there was no evidence of anyone else being connected to the crimes.
“It’s our position that there’s a nephew or youngster who’s involved that did each and every murder,” Franklin’s lawyer said, telling the Los Angeles Superior Court jury there was “insufficient evidence” that Franklin was involved in the crimes.
In her rebuttal argument, the prosecutor said the defense’s theory had “no evidence to support it” and urged the jurors not to engage in speculation.
“If there is a mystery man out there, where is his DNA?” Silverman asked. “The only DNA profile that repeats itself again and again is the defendant’s.”
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.
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.”
She also questioned whether it was reasonable that Franklin would have the 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.
“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.”
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 was convicted of killing:
— 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 16, 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 9, 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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