‘Grim Sleeper’ Defense Hinges on Mystery Man

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A defense attorney told jurors during closing arguments in the “Grim Sleeper” serial murders trial that a mystery “nephew” of defendant Lonnie Franklin Jr. could be to blame for the killing of nine young black women and a teenage girl.
     Attorney Seymour Amster continued his closing arguments in the death penalty case on Tuesday morning in Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy’s downtown Los Angeles courtroom, drawing attention to county prosecutors’ star witness Enietra Washington – the only verified survivor of the alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer.
     After Amster concluded his argument, county prosecutor Beth Silverman offered a rebuttal in the afternoon.
     Washington testified that she survived a 1988 attack after Franklin allegedly picked her up in an orange Pinto, sexually assaulted her, shot her in the chest and pushed her out of his car.
     But Amster told the 12-member jury that Washington had identified her assailant as being in his 20s, and Franklin was in his 30s at that time.
     Furthermore, Amster said Washington had told a sketch artist that the attacker had pockmarks or acne scars. Franklin does not have those distinguishing features, Amster said.
     In addition, the crime lab Sorenson Forensics found no DNA profile match to Franklin on Washington, Amster said.
     The man in the Pinto had stated that he was going to his uncle’s house, Amster said, noting that this “mystery man” could have access to the undiscovered .25-caliber gun used to shoot eight of the killer’s victims.
     “Each and every murder that occurred in this case could have been done by the mystery man, with the mystery gun, with the mystery DNA,” Amster said.
     Investigators found a Polaroid photograph of an unconscious Washington during the search of Franklin’s residence.
     But in line with the defense attorney’s “nephew theory,” the mysterious individual who picked up Washington could have had access to the Polaroid camera as well as the .25 pistol that shot her, Amster said.
     The defense attorney also claimed that prosecutors had contaminated Washington’s testimony by only showing her one photograph of Franklin rather than a six-pack of images.
     Prosecutors had used the power of persuasion to convince her that Franklin was her attacker when the “nephew” – who Amster said could also have been a friend of Franklin’s – was the actual attacker.
     Amster said that for “better or worse” Franklin was good at “picking up women and having sex with them,” and that Franklin might even know who the “mystery man” is.
     “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,” Amster said.
     Amster followed county prosecutor Beth Silverman, who told jurors Monday that “overwhelming” DNA and ballistics evidence connects Franklin to the brutal murders and attempted murder of Washington.
     During her rebuttal, Silverman excoriated Amster for concocting his new “nephew” theory at the 11th hour of the trial, and for deceiving jurors by leaving out key evidence showing that Franklin’s DNA was repeatedly found on the murder victims.
     “The theory of the defense is basically the equivalent of the skies opening up, a spaceship descending and murdering all these women,” Silverman said.
     Franklin had said he was going to his uncle’s house because he needed a reason to stop at his residence and pick up a gun, Silverman said, and the defense team’s own witness, Franklin’s friend Paul Williams, testified that Franklin had some discoloration on his face. That accounts for Washington identifying pockmarks, said Silverman.
     She also argued that Amster was distorting the DNA evidence to make it seem like there had been more than one killer or that the “imaginary” nephew had committed the murders.
     “If there is some mystery man out there, where’s his DNA?” Silverman said.
     Amster said that DNA from multiple unknown contributors had been found on victims but Franklin’s DNA profile was the only one to show up on victims time and time again, according to Silverman.
     The prosecutor reserved her most scorn for the Franklin’s expert witness David Lamagna, who had testified that the firearm examiners were using unreliable methods to match bullets to the same .25 pistol used to shoot eight victims.
     She urged the jury to disregard Lamagna’s testimony. He has no experience or training as firearm examiner, she said, and was criticizing science that has been validated over 100 years.
     “If you are offering an opinion and the basis of your opinion is garbage, then the opinion is garbage. Garbage in and garbage out,” Silverman said.
     Prosecutors painted Franklin as a sexual predator who took advantage of the crack-cocaine epidemic of the mid-1980s and early 1990s to terrorize young black sex workers by luring them into his car with promises of alcohol and drugs.
     With the exception of 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux, all the murder victims tested positive for cocaine.
     The killer earned the “Grim Sleeper” nickname because of a supposed 14-year period of inactivity from 1988 to 2002. Prosecutors say the lull ended when Berthomieux was found beaten and strangled to death in an alley.
     The killings began in 1985 with the murder of 29-year-old Debra Jackson, who was found dead with three close-range gunshot wounds to the chest.
     Silverman told jurors that the trajectory of the bullets was the same in several of the murders, suggesting the killer picked up his victims in a vehicle and shot them in the passenger seat at close range before dumping their bodies in “filthy” alleyways and dumpsters.
     Franklin drove a trash truck and is also a former LAPD garage attendant. The African-American has pleaded not guilty to the murder and attempted murder charges.
     After a task force was set up to investigate the killings, a search warrant for Franklin’s South Central residence uncovered 800 items of evidence, including $17,000 in cash and 10 firearms.
     Silverman said that prosecutors believe the stash of cash could have been “escape” money.
     Among the evidence, officers recovered dozens of Polaroid photographs of women. That evidence has led some to believe that Franklin killed many more women.
     A .25-caliber Titan pistol recovered from the house matched the bullet used to shoot and kill the last known victim, Janecia Peters, who was killed on New Year’s Day 2007, prosecutors say.
     Authorities have not recovered the .25 semiautomatic pistol used to shoot eight other victims, including Washington.
     Jurors will begin deliberations Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily at the Clara Shortridge Foltz courthouse.

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