Guilty verdicts in Grim Sleeper serial killer case – Los Angeles Times
Nearly 30 years after the first victim’s body was found sprawled in a South Los Angeles alley, the man authorities dubbed the Grim Sleeper serial killer was found guilty Thursday of a series of slayings that spanned more than two decades.
With the verdicts, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a former Los Angeles police garage attendant and city garbage collector, officially becomes one of California’s most prolific and enduring serial killers. The murder charges at his trial spanned deaths from 1985 to 2007, with a gap of more than 13 years that earned him his ominous nickname.
After a day and a half of deliberations, jurors found Franklin guilty of 10 counts of murder in the killings of nine women and a 15-year-old girl. Jurors also found Franklin guilty of one count of attempted murder.
The trial lasted nearly three months. The victims were all young and black, with some leading troubled lives during the chaotic 1980s in South L.A. The dead were left along a corridor in the Manchester Square neighborhood. Their partially clothed or naked bodies — some decomposing — were found amid the filth and garbage of alleyways. All were left without identification, and each was initially labeled Jane Doe.
The courtroom audience remained mostly silent as the clerk read the 11 guilty verdicts, but with each one another section of spectators would erupt in tears.
The daughter of victim Henrietta Wright, her chin in the air, nodded slowly as the clerk read the guilty verdict in her mother’s killing, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Franklin, 63, remained completely still except for his right foot bouncing quickly up and down. As the verdicts were recited, he stopped and remained still, his eyes fixed on the clerk as she read.
Before the verdicts were read, Porter Alexander and his wife Mary, whose daughter Alicia Alexander was killed in 1988, interlocked their fingers. Mary rocked with her eyes closed, tears dripping into her lap as she sat waiting. Porter clenched his other hand in a fist.
As they heard the verdict in their daughter’s killing, their hands clasped more tightly. Porter opened his fist.
Franklin’s fate will be determined in the next phase of the trial, when jurors hear evidence to help them decide whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are expected to present evidence that Franklin killed at least five more women for which he wasn’t charged.
“They suffered from the same frailties and the same imperfections that all humans do, and they had the same hopes and the same dreams for their futures that we all have,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman told jurors during closing arguments in the trial. “None of them deserved to be brutally dumped like trash as if their lives had no meaning.”
The deaths of the women, some of whom were drug addicts or worked as prostitutes, failed to elicit the same alarm that put Los Angeles on high alert during rampages of other prolific serial killers in the Southland, such as the Hillside Stranglers or Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker.
The slayings in the mid- to late ’80s coincided with a surge of homicides in South L.A. linked to the crack cocaine epidemic. In addition, several other serial killers were operating in the same area in those years. Michael Hughes was later convicted of killing seven women, Chester Turner of 14 women and a fetus. Both are on California’s death row.
In the case of the Grim Sleeper, the victims’ deaths would not be connected for decades, and police kept the slayings quiet despite suspicions that a serial killer was stalking young black women.
That decision led to outrage and condemnation from many who came to believe that the killer was able to continue as a result of police indifference.
After years of waiting for justice, families stood before a phalanx of cameras Thursday afternoon and recalled their slain relatives.
“It’s closure, we’ve been waiting 30 years. We needed this,” said Irene Ephriam, the niece of Henrietta Wright.
Prosecutors refused to comment after the verdicts were reached, saying the day was for victims only.
“He doesn’t value life,” said Samara Herard, the sister of 15-year-old victim Princess Berthomieux. “I hope that justice will be served. All I’m worried about now is her and getting justice served. He deserved to be found guilty.”
Herard said it was painful to listen to details of the killings during the trial.
“You don’t want to hear what happened, at parts I had to hold my head down and close my eyes,” Herard said. “I didn’t want to see that because you want to remember — you want to remember that sweet little girl that had her whole life ahead of her and it was taken from her.”
Prosecutors argued that Franklin was connected to all of the 10 slain victims, as well as an 11th who survived, by DNA evidence, ballistics or both. Franklin’s DNA was found on seven victims.
Retired LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, head of the department’s Grim Sleeper task force, said the verdict was an “emotional one” for him.
For the record
May 5, 3:25 p.m.: A previous version of this article misspelled Det. Dennis Kilcoyne’s last name as Kilconye.
“These families … it’s not a club you want to belong to,” he said.
A gun found in Franklin’s home was used to kill one woman, according to court testimony. Police criminalists testified that bullets from eight other victims — seven of whom were killed and another who survived — were fired from another weapon that was never recovered. Franklin’s DNA was on the bodies of three of those women, according to testimony.
“The evidence in this case is the voice of the victims who can no longer speak for themselves,” Silverman said during the trial.
Franklin did not testify. The defense argued that other men could have committed the slayings, pointing to DNA not belonging to Franklin that was found on some of the women’s bodies, their clothes and the crime scenes.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Seymour Amster suggested that a relative or an associate of Franklin’s who called him “uncle” was responsible. He seized on testimony by Enietra Washington, believed to be the Grim Sleeper’s only survivor, who told jurors that she was raped and shot by an assailant nearly 30 years ago. In court, she identified Franklin as her attacker.