LOS ANGELES (AP) — A serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper” should be sentenced to death for murdering nine women and a teenage girl over more than two decades in South Los Angeles, a jury decided Monday.
Lonnie Franklin Jr. stared straight ahead and showed no emotion as a court clerk read 10 death penalty verdicts.
Family members of the victims cried as the verdicts were read. One rocked back and forth, while another whispered to himself, “Thank you.”
“We got what we came to get, a just verdict,” said Porter Alexander, the father of 18-year-old victim Alicia Alexander. “I'm glad I lived to see it. It's a long time coming.”
The 63-year-old Franklin, a former city trash collector and garage attendant for Los Angeles police, was convicted of 10 counts of first-degree murder last month for crimes dating back more than 30 years.
A prosecutor had asked jurors to show Franklin the same compassion he showed his victims and give him the “ultimate penalty.”
An emotional defense lawyer asked jurors to sentence him to life without parole to hasten the healing process for the victims' family members.
Franklin's only words during the proceeding Monday were, “Yes, your honor.” As he walked into court, family members of the victims whispered, “Dead man walking.”
Samara Herard, 45, the foster sister of the youngest victim, 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux, said the verdict was bittersweet.
“This closes out a chapter and you have to go on … but I'll never get my sister back,” Herard said. “She'll never get a chance to grow up. She'll never go to college, she'll never be married … At 15 years old it was stripped from her.”
The judge set formal sentencing for Aug. 10.
During the trial, defense lawyers questioned forensic evidence and said DNA from other men was also found on several bodies.
They suggested a “mystery man,” possibly a relative of Franklin's, was the real killer.
On Monday, Franklin's defense attorney slammed the amount of money prosecutors spent on the case and the costs associated with the death penalty.
“Now what happens is millions of dollars will be spent on appeals because we have no choice but to do that,” lawyer Seymour Amster said, adding that money would be better spent in the neighborhood where the killings happened.
He declined to speak about Franklin, saying the concentration should be on healing society.
Franklin is unlikely to be executed. Nearly 750 convicted killers sit on California's death row, the largest in the nation.
But because of legal challenges, no one has been executed in over a decade and only 13 have been put to death since 1978. Far more have died of natural causes or suicide.
Most of Franklin's slayings fit a similar pattern. Women were either fatally shot, choked – or both – their bodies dumped in alleys and trash bins.
Police didn't connect the crimes to a serial killer for years, and victims' families and community residents complained the killings weren't thoroughly investigated because the victims were poor and black, and some were prostitutes who had been using cocaine.
Franklin came under suspicion after a task force began re-examining the cold cases following the final killing in 2007 and DNA from his son showed similarities to genetic evidence found on some of the victims.
A detective posing as a busboy at a pizza parlor later collected utensils and crusts from Franklin while he was attending a birthday party. Lab results connected him to the bodies.
The culprit had been dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because of an apparent gap in slayings between 1988 and 2002.
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman was able to introduce evidence of four additional slayings during the penalty phase, including one that linked Franklin to a killing in 2000. She also presented evidence of a 1984 slaying – a year before the first murder he was convicted of.
Prosecutors said they didn't charge Franklin with the additional killings because it would have delayed the case that took nearly six years to bring to trial.
The survivor who Franklin was convicted of attempting to murder helped prosecutors establish the killer's modus operandi.
Enietra Washington described getting a lift from Franklin in his orange Ford Pinto and then having him shoot her in the chest while she sat in the passenger seat.
As she was losing consciousness, he sexually assaulted her and she remembered seeing the flash from a Polaroid camera.
A photo of a bleeding and partly nude Washington was later found hidden behind a wall in Franklin's garage. Police found photos of other victims in the home.
Nearly 30 years after Washington was left for dead on the side of a road, she pointed at Franklin in court and said: “That's the person who shot me.”