With the guilty verdict of a Los Angeles County jury in the case of the “Grim Sleeper” suspect Lonnie Franklin, the next phase in the decades-long search, capture, and trial, is the penalty phase.
The trial ended a murder mystery that spanned more than three decades, and a former Los Angeles city garage attendant and sanitation worker was convicted May 5 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 along with allegations that he used a gun in nine of the killings.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy had jurors return to court this week for the start of the trial’s penalty phase, in which they will be asked to recommend whether Franklin should be put to death or sent to prison without the possibility of parole.
This phase of the trial is expected to last at least four to six weeks with prosecutors expected to connect five more victims to the list of those Franklin killed.
During the penalty phase, family members of victims will testify about how they have been affected by the killings, which dated back to the mid-1980s.
Alicia Alexander’s father called the verdict a “great relief.”
“He took my daughter’s life, along with the other lives that (were) taken,” Porter Alexander Jr. said, adding he couldn’t understand how a man could be so “cold-blooded.”
“He took my baby,” Alexander said, struggling to hold back tears as he talked with reporters after the verdict about his 18-year-old daughter’s September 1988 shooting death.
And Alexander already has an opinion on what sentence Franklin deserves.
“What comes around goes around and now it’s his (Franklin’s) turn,” he said. “He was the judge and executioner. He judged my daughter … He took a life—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Alexander said, telling reporters that he believes Franklin’s punishment should be “no less than what he gave my daughter and the other ladies; he deserves no less.”
Samara Herard—whose 15-year-old sister, Princess Berthomieux, was strangled in March 2002—said she literally ran out of work and rushed to the courthouse after hearing the verdict would be read.
She said it was difficult to put into words how she felt when the court clerk read one guilty verdict after another.
“It’s almost like giving birth, like you wait so long you don’t think it’s going to come … You knew in your heart it was going to be this way,” Herard said, calling it a “surreal” experience.
She said it was difficult to sit and hear graphic testimony during the trial, noting that she held her head down and preferred to remember her sister as a “a sweet little girl who had her whole life in front of her.”
After hearing about two months of testimony, a seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for about 1 1/2 days before convicting Franklin of all of 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 a note to the judge asking about discrepancies involving the dates on two of the charges against Franklin.
Earlier, the judge responded to a note sent May 4 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 she could not provide jurors with any further information on the topic.
Franklin’s adult victims were mostly in their 20s, but he also killed 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.
“It’s closure, it’s been 30 years and we needed this,” said Irene Ephriam, the niece of one of the victims, Henrietta Wright.
Wright, a 34-year-old mother of five was shot twice in the chest and found in an alley with a cloth gag stuffed in her mouth on Aug. 12, 1986—the second of the victims.
Retired Los Angeles Police Department Detective Dennis Kilcoyne—who headed the task force that linked Franklin to the killings—called it a “very big day.”
“There’s never been a question in my mind that he’s the guy. I mean, the science is overwhelming that he is our man. He acted alone, no mystery nephew, and that’s that,” he said, referring to the defense’s theory that someone who was related to or knew Franklin may have been responsible for the killings.
Franklin has remained jailed without bail since his arrest in July 2010 by LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division detectives. An undercover detective posing as bus boy at a Buena Park pizza parlor collected an unfinished slice of pizza Franklin had been eating, along with a napkin and two cups, for DNA testing without Franklin’s knowledge.
Authorities said after Franklin’s arrest that he had been 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 matched forensic evidence from eight killings between 1985 and 1988, and three killings between 2001 and 2007.
Jurors began their deliberations May 4 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.
Along with Wright’s murder, Franklin was convicted of killing:
—Debra Jackson, 29, found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;
—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.
In addition to the penalty phase of Franklin’s trial, the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders (BCFBSM) urges that justice must be gained for the 35 Black women whose photos were founded in the home of the suspect and who remain unaccounted for, as well as the 200 Black women in South L.A. who remain missing. BCFBSM’s founder Margaret Prescod believes one way to do this is to reactivate the dedicated task force to concentrate on finding what happened to the other missing women.
BCFBSM is also demanding that compensation laws be revised and/or adjusted to ensure that none of the victims’ loved ones were discriminated against, and that a scholarship fund be established for the children.
BCFBSM, which was founded by Margaret Prescod in 1985, has also been fundraising to underwrite the cost of erecting a memorial to the women. So far, the organization has raised $6,000 but much more is needed, said Prescod.
The group has also said there must be accountability for the past racism and corruption in the law enforcement system that allowed for the inhumane, dismissive treatment of the victims.
City News Service and OW Staff contributed to this story.