LOS ANGELES (CN) — A jury on Thursday found accused “Grim Sleeper” serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr. guilty of the first-degree murder of nine women, a teenage girl and the attempted murder of his only known survivor.
The jury deliberated for over 1 1/2 days before delivering the verdict to Judge Kathleen Kennedy shortly after 1:30 p.m. in a courtroom packed with family members, press and law enforcement.
Franklin, 63, remained as he had throughout proceedings — staring without emotion at the wall in front of him — as the court clerk confirmed that the jury found him guilty of the murder of 10 victims and the attempted murder of another.
As the clerk confirmed the jury had found Franklin responsible for the murder of 18-year-old Alicia Alexander, her older brother Donnell nodded in the gallery.
Along with his mother, father and other relatives, Donnell had sat through every pretrial hearing and every day of the nearly three-month trial.
As the enormity of the verdict swept over him he allowed the tears to flow.
After the clerk read the 11 guilty verdicts, Judge Kennedy asked the 12 jurors to confirm that the verdicts were correct.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
Talking to reporters outside the courtroom, Alicia Alexander’s father Porter Alexander Jr. talked about his “great relief” when the decision arrived.
With tears streaming down his face, Alexander said of Franklin: “He took a limb from me — something that I’ll never get back. It can never be replaced. I don’t care how many pictures I have on the wall and all the things I see around me. It doesn’t bring her back.”
He said he found it hard to comprehend that Franklin could be so “cold” and “uncaring.”
“He was the judge and executioner. He judged my daughter and took her life,” Porter Alexander said.
The verdict caps a trial in which prosecutors described Franklin — a husband and father of two — as a cold-blooded sexual predator who derived pleasure and gratification from the killings.
The African-American defendant shot his victims at close range in the chest with a .25 semiautomatic pistol, and the evidence showed that they were shot in the passenger seat of the defendant’s cars, jurors heard.
“The defendant is a serial killer who was basically hiding in plain sight,” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors during closing arguments earlier this week.
Nearly all of Franklin’s victims were sex workers, and all but one tested positive for cocaine in their systems.
Franklin, an unassuming former city trash collector and LAPD garage attendant, demanded that his victims submit to him sexually, jurors heard. If they did not they were shot or strangled and sometimes both, county prosecutors said.
Franklin’s modus operandi was to dump his victims in filthy alleyways or dumpsters, a few miles from his mint-green South Central house — placing the women he killed under discarded carpets, debris, a gas tank, a blanket, and trash, the jurors heard.
The first victim was 29-year-old Debra Jackson. She was found on Aug. 10, 1985, with three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley close to West Gage Avenue, just 1.5 miles from Franklin’s home on 81st Street in the Manchester Square neighborhood.
She was hidden under a leftover piece of carpet and her body had partially decomposed when she was found.
Twenty-two years later on New Year’s Day, 2007, a homeless man found Janecia Peters discarded in an alley where another victim, Bernita Sparks, had been dumped 20 years earlier. Peters was inside a black trash bag, fastened with a zip tie. She was naked, in the fetal position, and had been shot and choked to death, the jury heard.
During opening and closing arguments, gruesome crime scene and autopsy images of the women were blown up and shown to jurors on a white screen on the courtroom wall.
The victims were all young, black and vulnerable, fighting to survive in an impoverished part of the city known for gangs and drugs.
Franklin’s youngest victim was 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux. His oldest victim was 35-year-old Valerie McCorvey.
But perhaps more disturbing than the images of the victims’ lifeless bodies were those pictures taken while they were still breathing.
Evidence showed that Franklin had taken Polaroid images of some of the victims. Along with underwear and bras hidden in the garage at the back of Franklin’s home, the defendant had kept the Polaroid images as trophies, prosecutors said.
One Polaroid image showed an unconscious Enietra Washington in the passenger seat of a car, her breast exposed.
The killer’s only verified survivor, Washington testified that Franklin had offered her a ride in an orange Ford Pinto with white racing stripes. He stopped off at his home because prosecutors believe he needed to retrieve the .25 pistol to shoot Washington, whom Franklin had accused of “dogging” or disrespecting him.
After he shot and sexually assaulted Washington he pushed her out of the Pinto, jurors heard.
Franklin’s attorneys often appeared desperate to shift the perception prosecutors had placed in jurors’ minds.
They attacked DNA evidence. They attacked established methods used by ballistics experts to match the bullets found in eight victims to the same .25 caliber pistol.
Franklin’s attorney Seymour Amster said that multiple DNA contributors had been found on the victims, suggesting that more than one assailant — including transients or gang members — could have murdered the women.
Amster then surprised the court by introducing a brand new theory during closing arguments: that a friend, associate or nephew of Franklin’s was guilty of the murders, not his client.
This so-called “mystery man” could have had access to the Pinto, the missing .25 pistol, a Polaroid camera and even Franklin’s home, Amster said.
“For better or worse,” Franklin was good at “picking up women and having sex with them” but that did not make him a serial killer, Amster said.
“Yes, maybe his soul is corrupt. Maybe he’s got a lot to answer for. But it’s not a crime. It’s not murder,” the defense attorney said during closing arguments.
Silverman ridiculed Amster’s theory during her rebuttal. She told the jury to use their “common sense” and consider only the evidence.
Franklin’s DNA profile was found repeatedly on the murder victims, Washington had identified him as her attacker, and while law enforcement has never recovered the pistol used to murder seven victims and shoot Washington, a Titan pistol used to kill Peters had been found at his home, Silverman said.
“The theory of the defense is basically the equivalent of the skies opening up, a spaceship descending and murdering all these women,” Silverman said.
Amster offered no evidence to back up his “nephew theory” and never identified the mysterious individual or named a relative who might be the killer, Silverman said.
In the end, Amster — who was not present in court today — failed to persuade the jury, which delivered the guilty verdicts after beginning deliberations on Tuesday morning.
Amster did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email.
Jurors will now enter the next phase of the case to decide whether Franklin will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
But even with a verdict, questions remain.
The accused serial killer earned the name the Grim Sleeper because of a supposed 14-year period of inactivity from 1988 to 2002. But some believe that the nickname is a misnomer and that Franklin could be one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.
Margaret Prescod, the founder of Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, told reporters after the verdict that her group had been “fighting for justice” since 1985. And though she praised prosecutors and singled out LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, she urged authorities to keep investigating the case.
“We are recommitting ourselves today to continue that fight for justice for the 35 women in the photos that were found in Lonnie Franklin’s home that remain unaccounted for. We want justice for them as well,” Prescod said.
It was only after the murder of Peters in 2007 that the LAPD set up a special task force to investigate the case, headed by Kilcoyne.
An emotional Prescod said that another task force should be created.
“We cannot forget those victims or the 200 that are still missing. Our hearts go out to them, just as they go out to all these families,” Prescod said with family members behind her. “We want these families to get the support that they deserve — the support that they’ve earned. The pain will never go away. But as a community, we stand with them and we will continue to stand with them.”
The Nick Broomfield documentary “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” takes a close look at the Franklin case and suggests that the Los Angeles Police Department neglected the case for decades.
Toward the end of the documentary, Broomfield interviews several women who say they escaped from Franklin but were never interviewed by the police.
Law enforcement had identified the sex worker victims as NHI — No Humans Involved — and the documentary asserts that Franklin’s capture was largely accidental, the result of investigators discovering a similar DNA match through Franklin’s son who had been arrested on a weapons charge.
Jackson, Henrietta Wright, Barbara Ware, Sparks, Mary Lowe, Lachrica Jefferson, and Alexander were murdered during the first period of activity from 1985 to 1988.
Berthomieux, McCorvey and Peters were killed over a five-year period that began in 2002 and ended in 2007.
The jury returns to the court for the penalty phase May 12 at 9:00 a.m.
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