A former Los Angeles garbageman was convicted Thursday of 10 counts of murder in the “Grim Sleeper” serial killings that singled out poor, young black women spanning across two decades.
Lonnie Franklin Jr. expressed little emotion as the verdicts were read and family members started crying and murmuring in the gallery.
“We got him,” exclaimed Porter Alexander Jr., whose daughter Alicia, 18, was shot and choked. Her body was found under a mattress in an alley in September 1988. “It took a long time. By the grace of God it happened. It’s such a relief.”
Prosecutors are considering the death penalty during the second phase of his trial scheduled to start on May 12.
Franklin, 63, was also found guilty of one count of attempted murder for shooting a woman in the chest and carrying her body from his orange Ford Pinto two months following Alexander’s killing. Enietra Washington, the survivor, provided the greatly-needed connection to seven preceding killings and was an important witness in the trial.
The killings from 1985 to 2007 were said to be the result of the “Grim Sleeper” because of the 14-year gap after Washington’s shooting, although prosecutors believe that he was actively killing during that time as well.
Franklin remained at large throughout the decades, due to the lack of action from the police (because of the race of the victims) and the ambiguity surrounding the crimes. The violence occurred primarily during the nation’s crack cocaine epidemic, during a period where at least two or serial killers were on the loose in the area known previously as South Central. The 10 victims, including a 15-year-old girl, were fatally shot or strangled and dumped in alleys and garbage bins. Most had traces of cocaine in their systems.
The cases were reopened after the last killing when a task force was assigned to revisit cases dozens of officers failed to solve in the 1980s. The team compiled ballistics evidence and DNA testing that hadn’t been available at the time of the first killings.
Franklin, a onetime trash collector in the area and a garage attendant for the Los Angeles Police Department, had been “hiding in plain sight,” according to Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman. Franklin was tied to the crimes after the DNA from his son, gained after a felony arrest, showed similar genetic material left on the bodies of most of the victims.
An officer concealed as a busboy collected pizza crusts and napkins with Franklin’s DNA while he was celebrating at a birthday party. Shortly thereafter, his DNA was matched with the material found on the clothing of many women and on the zip tie of a transh bag that contained the body of his last victim, Janecia Peters. She was discovered on Jan. 1, 2007, after someone was sifting through a dumpster and saw her red fingernails.
Silverman described the victims as sisters, daughters and mothers who suffered infirmities but had hopes and dreams.
Samara Herard, the sister of the youngest victim, Princess Berthomieux, said there were things she didn’t want to see during the trial and had to hold her head down at times, but was ecstatic to discover that the killer was caught. “I wanted to remember the sweet little girl who had her whole life in front of her,” Herard said. “She had a heart of gold and she deserved to live a full life.”
Defense lawyer Seymour Amster challenged what he called “inferior science” of DNA and ballistics evidence. During his closing argument, he introduced a new theory: a “mystery man with a mystery gun and mystery DNA” was responsible for all the killings. He said the man was a “nephew” of Franklin’s who was jealous because his uncle had better luck with women, though he did not mention any names or evidence to corroborate this theory. Silverman rebuffed the “mystery nephew” statement, saying it was as “rational an explanation as a space ship dropping from the sky and killing the women.” She said Franklin had lied to Washington and was probably stopping at his house to get his gun. Washington later led police to Franklin’s street, but not his house.