Prosecution Rests in ‘Grim Sleeper’ Trial

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Relatives of nine murdered young black women took the stand on Wednesday as the prosecution rested its case against accused Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr.
     The witnesses were sisters, a step-mother, a father, an aunt, a cousin and a daughter of victims. Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman greeted each one of them in turn and directed them to the stand. They gave brief testimony and identified their loved ones via autopsy images projected on a white screen in court.
     Tanya Everett was the first person sworn in. She is the younger sister of the Grim Sleeper’s first victim 29-year-old Debra Jackson, who was shot three times in the chest and dumped in an alley in the Vermont-Slauson area of South LA.
     Barbara Ware’s stepmother Diana Ware testified next. Diana married Barbara’s father when Barbara was six years old. Seventeen years later, Barbara’s lifeless body was dumped out of a blue and white van on East 56th Street in the Central Alameda area.
     A gas tank was thrown on top of her and only her feet were visible, an anonymous male caller told 911 at the time.
     When Silverman showed a photograph of another victim, Alicia Alexander, to her father Porter Alexander Jr., he told the court: “That’s my baby daughter.”
     Alexander was 18 when her body was found discarded in an alleyway in Vermont Square on Sept. 11, 1988.
     Silverman asked Everett and each witness during brief testimony if any one of them knew or was related to the black man seated across from them in the courtroom in a white shirt, black glasses and tie.
     They all said no.
     That man is 63-year-old Lonnie Franklin Jr. He is standing trial on charges that he murdered nine women and a 15-year-old girl, Princess Berthomieux.
     The victims were often sex workers, and prosecutors say Franklin prowled the streets during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, killing seven women during a period that ended in 1988.
     Among the murdered were Debra Jackson, Henrietta Wright, Barbara Ware, Bernita Sparks, Mary Lowe, Lachrica Jefferson, and Alicia Alexander.
     Between 2002 and 2007 Berthomieux, Valerie McCorvey, and Janecia Peters were murdered. They have also been linked to the Grim Sleeper, who earned the name because of a fallow 14-year period that came to end in the early 2000s.
     Franklin’s DNA was found on all 11 of his victims, Silverman has said, including the only verified survivor Enietra Washington. Washington has testified that Franklin picked her up in an orange Pinto in 1988, sexually assaulted her, shot her and then pushed her out of the moving car.
     Franklin is also standing trial for her attempted murder.
     Alicia Alexander’s older brother Donnell told reporters on Wednesday that his sister was a kind and loving person who “didn’t have an opportunity to grow up to be an adult.”
     “She’d just turned 18 and he took her at a tender age,” Alexander said.
     It was important for him to attend the trial because “my sister can’t be here,” he said.
     “This whole case is not only about my sister but other girls,” he added. “So, we have to be here to support them because otherwise their voice wouldn’t be heard.”
     Alexander has attended every day of the trial and has come to court since Franklin was charged six years ago.
     He said that he did not pay “much attention” to the defendant, who has spent much of the trial sitting quietly and staring at the wall in front of him.
     “That’s negative,” Alexander said. “I try never to think of him, just about the love that I have for my sister. That’s how we get through it.”
     Diana Ware said her stepdaughter was a “lively, friendly, outgoing person” whose murder had left a four-year-old girl without a mother.
     “She loved people. She loved life. She was well loved,” Ware said.
     Ware said she did not recognize Franklin but said it was possible her late husband may have seen him before. Her husband had a business on Florence Avenue and Western, which was close to Franklin’s residence on 81st Street, she said.
     Ware said she had been coming to the court for 5 ½ years with the Alexanders.
     “I just want to be here for that, to let them know that she was loved. She had family and we loved her. And I want to be here for support,” Ware said.
     Barbara’s daughter is now in her early 30s and lives in Texas, Ware added.
     There were no tears or outbursts of emotion from family members during the morning’s proceedings. And the relatives on the stand remained composed. Two family members in the audience clasped hands in a display of solidarity.
     The jury trial began on Feb. 16 in Judge Kathleen Kennedy’s courtroom at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.
     During proceedings, LAPD firearm and ballistics experts have testified that they were able to determine that Washington had been shot with the same .25-caliber handgun as multiple other victims.
     Authorities arrested and charged Franklin in the summer of 2010 after confirming that his DNA was found on eleven victims.
     Just days prior to his arrest on July 7, 2010, a detective disguised as a busboy collected a half-eaten pizza from Franklin during a party at John’s Incredible Pizza to obtain DNA evidence.
     A search warrant for Franklin’s South Central residence uncovered 800 items of evidence, including $17,000 in cash and 10 firearms, and 180 photos of young black women.
     A .25-caliber Titan pistol recovered from the house matched the bullet used to shoot and kill Franklin’s last known victim, Janecia Peters, who was killed on New Year’s Day 2007, prosecutors say.
     During the trial, already strained relations between Silverman and the defense’s attorney Seymour Amster have spiraled downward.
     Silverman has frequently bristled with anger at what she has characterized as “personal attacks” from Amster.
     Amster has also grown animated and angry during proceedings, waving his arms, and telling Kennedy this week that he pitied Silverman and did not care what she thought of him.
     Amster’s co-counsel Dale Atherton told the court on Tuesday that he wanted to extend an “olive branch,” apologized, and admitted relations between the parties had become “toxic.”
     Kennedy, who has had to referee Silverman and Amster’s frequent disputes, appeared relieved.
     “Let’s move forward in the spirit of kumbaya,” Kennedy said Tuesday to laughter in the court.
     But the goodwill was short-lived.
     After the prosecution rested on Wednesday, attorneys on both sides engaged in heated sidebar discussion with Kennedy. Silverman complained about Amster’s “endless personal attacks.”
     Kennedy noted her dissatisfaction with the way attorneys on both sides had behaved.
     “Our kumbaya moment was just a moment,” Kennedy said.
     Kennedy also had to contend with a male juror who was unhappy that the jury would have two days off before reconvening on Monday for Amster’s opening argument.
     Juror #1 took the unusual step of addressing the entire court to register his displeasure.
     “I don’t appreciate having to wait two days,” he said, telling Kennedy that it was too short notice for him to go back to work. “Because of them [the defense lawyers], I’m going to be messed up.”
     Kennedy asked the juror if it would affect his judgment in the case.
     “I won’t hold it against them but it’s poor management,” he said.
     The attorneys will be back in court on Friday before the jury returns on Monday at 10:00 a.m.
     Amster said he planned to call as his first witness LAPD robbery-homicide detective Daryn Dupree.

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