Jurors vote for death sentence for ‘Grim Sleeper’ serial killer – Los Angeles Times
A Los Angeles County jury decided Monday that the “Grim Sleeper” serial killer should be put to death, closing an important legal chapter in the grisly slayings of at least nine women and one teenage girl that terrorized South L.A. for more than two decades.
The verdict against Lonnie David Franklin Jr., a 63-year-old former sanitation worker, drew muted sighs of relief in the downtown courtroom from victims’ relatives, who were passing tissues back and forth, letting slight sobs go as each victim’s name was read aloud. Franklin, wearing a yellow dress shirt and neck tie that he put on as he entered the courtroom, appeared to remain stoic as he has the entire trial.
He was convicted last month of 10 murders between 1985 and 2007 but authorities believe he is responsible for more. Jurors rejected defense arguments that he should spend the rest of his life in prison rather than face execution.
The victims’ bodies were often dumped naked on roadsides or among trash in humiliating fashion, and the victims were all initially listed as Jane Does, leaving the killings unconnected for decades.
Some of the victims’ relatives cried and others prayed silently, rocking back and forth, as Franklin entered the courtroom to hear the verdict and adjusted a necktie. Donnell Alexander, whose 18-year-old sister was among the victims, munched on some Skittles nervously.
“Dead man walking,”¿¿ he muttered aloud, as Franklin sat down.
Alexander, who spent much of the trial sketching the happenings in the courtroom, creating a chronological catalog of the evidence and proceedings, sighed and scrawled a note in his journal that read “Death. Death. Death.”
He locked eyes with an alternate juror and mouthed, “Thank you.”
She held her lips in a tight smile and nodded.
Outside the courtroom, relatives of Franklin’s victims hugged prosecutors and wiped away tears moments after the death verdict was read.
“We got what we came to get,” said Porter Alexander Jr., Alicia’s father.
Diana Ware, whose step-daughter Barbara was among the victims, said she had been coming to the downtown court for years waiting for this moment.
“I’m just glad it’s over and that he’ll never get out to hurt anyone else,” she said. “Justice was served.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman became emotional when talking about the relationship she developed with those still grieving Franklin’s victims during the years-long investigation and court proceedings, which dragged on for years.
¿“They’ve been in our lives and we’ve been in their lives in a very intimate way for the past six years and that’s not something for us that ends,” she said. “We did what we could do to bring this chapter to a close in the best way we could, but at the same time our connection with them goes on but their needs for us maybe starts to wane and they start getting back to their lives, so it’s a difficult time.”
During the penalty phase of the trial, prosecutors connected Franklin to an additional five killings. The district attorney’s office decided not to charge Franklin with those crimes because he was already facing the death penalty and prosecutors did not want to further stall a trial that had already been beset by delays.
In all, investigators think Franklin may have killed as many as 25 women during the years he spent stalking one of the city’s most vulnerable populations.
In her closing argument to the jury, Silverman gave a blistering recounting of each victim’s final moments, speaking with a palpable disdain for Franklin. The defendant, seated underneath a projector that displayed pictures of his victims’ battered and bloody bodies, never looked up.
“They were so vicious, they were so calculated, and they were so demeaning,” Silverman said of the killings. “The way that these women ended up, half of them naked … all of them in filthy alleys.”
Defense attorney Dale Atherton countered by appealing to the jury’s conscience in a plea for mercy. Executing Franklin, he said, would only “delay the healing process” for the victims’ families.
“Every time they think of the approaching execution date, it will be like opening the wounds again,” he said.
Atherton did not attend the reading of the verdict. Seymour Amster, another one of Franklin’s attorneys, called the verdict “unfortunate” and said he expected the case to continue dragging through the legal system.
“Now what happens is millions will be spent on appeals,” he said.
Amster said he hopes the case draws a spotlight to societal concerns. He chastised the government for what he characterized as their inaction in South L.A. during the crack cocaine epidemic and shot down the death penalty as an unnecessary resource drain.
“Isn’t that a shame, we’re going to spend all this money on him now?” Amster said, adding that he’s still considering filing a motion asking for a new trial.
California’s death penalty has been the subject of lawsuits in recent years. No one has been executed in the state since 2006.
Silverman did not mince words when asked if the simple pronouncement of a death sentence was enough for the prosecutors and Franklin’s relatives.
“Am I satisfied? No,” she said. “I think that at the end of the day the jurors have determined what the sentence would be and I think that the state has an obligation to carry that out.”
The killing 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 so-called Hillside Strangler or Richard Ramirez, who was dubbed the Nightstalker.
The deaths attributed to the Grim Sleeper in the mid-to-late-’80s coincided with a surge of homicides 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.
But the Grim Sleeper proved to be the most persistent. His victims’ deaths would not be connected for decades, and police kept the slayings quiet despite suspicions that a serial killer was stalking black women.