Lonnie Franklin, Jr. Found Guilty On All Murder Charges In 'Grim Sleeper' Case
A jury found alleged serial killer Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. guilty of ten charges of murder in the "Grim Sleeper" trial.
Thirty-one years ago, the body of 29-year-old Debra Jackson was found in a South L.A. alley—Jackson was the first known victim of the man a reporter would later dub the "Grim Sleeper," a serial killer who preyed on young black women, many of whom were sex workers.
Three years and six more dead women later, Enietra Washington collapsed on the steps of a friend's house, bloody, battered and with a bullet wound to the chest, but alive. Washington is the only known survivor of the serial killer's attacks.
After Washington, the killer went quiet for 13 years (hence the "sleeper" moniker), and didn't strike again until March 2002, when Princess Berthomieux was found strangled and beaten in an Inglewood alley. In January 2007, the body of Janecia Peters, another victim, offered DNA evidence that linked her death to other killings, and then-LAPD police chief William Bratton created a task force to hunt the killer. L.A. Weekly ran the first big expose on the murders in August 2008. Rewards were offered, composite sketches were created and big yellow billboards went up, but an arrest wasn't made until July 2010, when 57-year-old Lonnie Franklin, Jr. was charged with 10 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and special circumstance allegations of multiple murders. All but one of the former garbage collector and police mechanic's victims were women. According to L.A. Weekly, Franklin was the longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi River at the time of his arrest.
Franklin was ultimately betrayed by his own blood after years on the run. Investigators identified him as their suspect through the then-controversial use of familial DNA, matching Franklin to a DNA swab his son had given after an earlier arrest.
After being delayed for years, the trial began in mid-February and testimony flashed backward to a different South L.A., one plagued by the crack-cocaine epidemic of the '80s and its ensuing wreckage. As Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said in her opening statement:
This was a perfect opportunity for someone who knew the streets and alleyways by heart. Someone who knew where the drug-addicted women and prostitutes would congregate... It was the perfect time for a serial killer to roam the streets of Los Angeles.
During the nearly three month long trial, prosecutors argued that Franklin was connected to each of the ten killings and the one attempted murder by DNA evidence, ballistic evidence, or both, according to the L.A. Times. As the Times wrote:
A gun found in his 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.
Franklin didn't testify during the trial, and during closing arguments defense attorney Seymour Amster revealed for the first time that a "mystery man," an unnamed nephew of defendant, was actually the real killer. "Each and every murder in this case could have been done by a mystery man with a mystery gun with mystery DNA," Amster said while issuing his out-of-left-field closing.
"The theory of the defense is basically the equivalent of the skies opening up, a space ship descending and murdering all these women," Silverman said "as members in the audience snickered," according to the AP.
The jury deliberated for less than a day and a half before reaching their verdict.