A defense attorney urged jurors Friday to recommend life imprisonment for the man convicted of the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and a teenage girl, telling them a death sentence would delay the healing process for the victims’ families.
“I want you to know if you vote for death, that’s fine … It’s a fair and just verdict. But my point to you today is that there is a better way,” lawyer Dale R. Atherton said in urging the panel to choose life in prison without the possibility of parole over capital punishment for Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
In her closing argument Thursday in the trial’s penalty phase, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told the jury that Franklin “deserves to pay the ultimate penalty” for his crimes.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy turned the case over to the seven-woman, five-man jury shortly after 10:15 a.m. The jurors left about 3:30 p.m. and are due back in court Monday to resume deliberations. Franklin, a 63-year-old former city garage attendant and sanitation worker, was convicted May 5 of 10 counts of first-degree murder for the killings of nine women and a 15-year-old girl between 1985 and 2007.
Jurors also found Franklin guilty 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.
Atherton — whose voice grew emotional at points during his closing argument — told the panelists that they should be absolutely convinced of Franklin’s involvement in the killings in order to come back with a death penalty recommendation.
He told jurors that he believed there was “serious lingering doubt,” and called into question Washington’s identification of Franklin as her assailant.
Franklin’s attorney noted that she was shown a photo of the defendant and was asked if he was the man who attacked her, but that she was not “tested” on her ability to identify Franklin in a photo line-up containing other men.
“Are you going to execute a man on her testimony, on the testimony of Enietra Washington?” Atherton asked jurors. “That’s what they want you to do … Let’s assume that man that attacked Enietra Washington is not Lonnie Franklin.
“Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a friend,” he said, referring to the defense’s argument during the guilt phase of trial that an unknown assailant may have been responsible for the 10 killings for which Franklin was prosecuted.
He told jurors that advances in DNA and ballistics testing in the future could point to another suspect and questioned how they would feel if they had recommended a death sentence for Franklin.
“Life is the better way,” he said. “Death is absolute. You can’t go back and fix it.”
Franklin’s attorney also told jurors that he was “arguing for mercy on behalf of the families,” and that “any mercy you show should be for the families.”
“A death verdict will delay the healing process,” Atherton said, noting that any execution date set for Franklin would be “another reminder” to the families that they don’t yet have closure.
“We ask you to choose life and bring this case to a close,” he said. “I promise you you will heal more hearts … if you vote for life than if you vote for death.”
The defense attorney said he hoped the jury’s message to the victims’ families — many of whom have been in court throughout the proceedings — would be that they “voted for life to take the first step in the healing process.”
Anticipating the defense’s argument about an unknown assailant rather than Franklin being responsible for the killings, the prosecutor told jurors in her closing argument that Franklin “acted alone” and that his DNA profile is “the only DNA profile that repeats over and over.”
Silverman called the defendant a “sexual predator” and “career criminal” who committed crimes dating back to the 1974 kidnapping and gang rape of a 17-year-old girl in Germany while he was “in the military representing us.”
“He’s a prolific serial killer and he’s evil,” she said, telling jurors that there was “a long line of victims behind him.”
“You can either give mercy to him — the serial killer — or you can impose justice,” the prosecutor said. “Death is the only just punishment for this defendant … the 14 lives he stole.”
She implored jurors to put themselves in the victims’ positions, asking them to think about the terror, panic, pain, desperation and helplessness they must have been feeling before they died “afraid and alone and in pain.”
During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecution presented evidence that it contends links Franklin to four other killings: the January 1984 slaying of Sharon Dismuke, the August 1988 killing of Inez Warren, the December 2000 slaying of Georgia Thomas and the presumed killing of Rolenia Morris, a 31-year-old mother of two who “vanished under very mysterious circumstances” in September 2005, Silverman said.
The jury heard about 2 1/2 weeks of testimony during the trial’s penalty phase, including firearms and fingerprint evidence that the prosecution contends links Franklin to some of the other killings in which he is suspected. The panel also heard from a series of the victims’ relatives, who gave emotional testimony about how they learned about the deaths and how their lives have been impacted.
Jurors deliberated about 1 1/2 days before finding Franklin guilty of the killings, which occurred between 1985 and 1988 and 2002 and 2007, with the assailant dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because of what was believed to be a 13- year break in the killings.
Franklin, who was arrested in July 2010, was convicted of killing:
—City News Service
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