City News Service

Family, Friends of Grim Sleeper Victims Testify

Beginning to build her case that a former Los Angeles city garage attendant and sanitation worker should be put to death for the "Grim Sleeper" killings of nine women and a 15-year-old girl, a prosecutor Thursday detailed for jurors a series of other killings she said are linked to the defendant.

At the start of the penalty phase of Lonnie David Franklin Jr.'s trial, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors the gun used to kill a woman in January 1984 -- more than 18 months before the first "Grim Sleeper" murder -- was the same weapon Franklin used to kill his final victim in 2007.

"This was the first murder in a series of murders committed by the defendant," Silverman said.

The prosecutor said evidence that the gun used to kill Sharon Dismuke in January 1984 matched the one used to kill Janecia Peters in 2007 -- the final "Grim Sleeper" slaying -- was "like bookends on this series of murders."

Dismuke, 21, was found dead Jan. 15, 1984, with a gag in her mouth, two gunshot wounds to the left side of her chest and blunt-force trauma to her head, Silverman said.

The prosecutor also described a series of other killings in which Franklin is suspected, including the shooting death of Georgia Mae Thomas, 43, who was found dead Dec. 18, 2000, in South Los Angeles, with two gunshot wounds to the left side of her chest and blunt-force trauma to her head.

The weapon used in the killing was found at Franklin's home, and his fingerprint was found on a magazine of the gun used to kill Thomas, the prosecutor said.

Franklin is also suspected in the killing of 28-year-old Inez Warren, who was found Aug. 15, 1988, with a gunshot wound to the left side of her chest and blunt-force trauma to her head, Silverman said. A kit used to collect potential DNA evidence from the woman was inadvertently destroyed in 2000 -- years before Franklin's arrest -- but the killing bore the "same pattern or signature" as the other killings, the deputy district attorney said.

The prosecutor also told jurors that a high school ID card -- which belonged to 18-year-old Hawthorne High School senior Ayellah Marshall, who vanished in January 2006 -- and a Nevada ID card belonging to 29-year-old Rolenia Morris, who disappeared in September 2005, were found by police in Franklin's garage during a July 2010 search. Authorities have not been able to locate either of the women, Silverman said.

Franklin, while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany in 1974, joined with two other men to grab a 17-year-old girl off a street, gang-rape her and take photos of her, the prosecutor told jurors.

Franklin, 63, was convicted last week of the 10 "Grim Sleeper" killings, along with the attempted murder of Enietra Washington, who survived being shot in the chest and pushed out of a moving vehicle in November 1988. In testimony Feb. 25, she identified Franklin as her assailant.

Washington is expected to be called back to the stand Friday to testify about her ordeal.

During the penalty phase of trial, the seven-woman, five-man jury is being asked to recommend whether Franklin should be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Franklin's attorney declined to present an opening statement today at the start of the penalty phase, which is expected to last more than a month.

During the trial's guilt phase, jurors did not hear about the other five women Franklin is suspected of killing.

Prosecutors began the latest phase of the case by calling the first in a series of relatives of the women whom Franklin was convicted of murdering.

With his voice rising, Porter Alexander Jr. -- the father of 18-year-old murder victim Alicia Alexander -- said, "It was a devastating blow that I received when they came and told me they had found my daughter."

The 75-year-old man said he has kept his youngest daughter's belongings "because she's not gone in my heart."

He noted that he has been coming to court over the past six years, and said that "there's nothing going to stop me other than death."

Mary Alexander, who used a cane to walk to the witness stand, called her slain daughter "my baby girl."

"She was precious, loveable, loved everybody," the woman said, telling jurors that she went into a "shell" after her daughter's death.

"The hurt is still there, the pain is still there," she said.

Kenneitha Lowe told jurors she goes to the cemetery whenever she feels like she needs to talk to her sister, Mary Lowe, who was killed in 1987. She said she remembers "the good times we had together and now it's gone."

"... Her life was lost for no reason," she said of her sister, who had danced on the TV show "Soul Train."

Lowe's cousin, Tracy Williams, told jurors, "This was our introduction to murder, death and killing ... I still don't understand it to this day."

One of Henrietta Wright's five children, Rochell Johnson, told jurors she was 4 years old when her mother was killed.

Johnson said she went to the cemetery for the first time last year and thought, "If she only could have seen the evil in that man, she wouldn't be there."

Wright's son, Willie Bush, said he "passed out" after being told that his mother had been murdered and felt bad that he had not been there to protect her.

"I just wish that she could still have been here on this earth," he said.

Samara Herard -- who was the foster sister of the youngest victim Princess Berthomieux -- said the girl was brought into their family after suffering abuse and that the girl "became like my daughter."

After Herard's mother died, the girl eventually had to move to another foster home, and Herard and her father did not learn about the teen's death until about a year later, Herard said.

"It felt like it was my daughter that had been murdered," she said.

At a hearing Wednesday outside the jury's presence, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy rejected the defense's request to limit the number of "victim impact" witnesses who can be called by the prosecution.

One of Franklin's attorneys, Seymour Amster, told the judge there was "no evidence there was a violent crime" against Marshall or Morris.

In closing arguments last week, the defense lawyer contended that an unknown assailant may have been responsible for the 10 killings for which Franklin was prosecuted.

Silverman countered that there was no evidence to support the defendant's theory and told jurors that "the only DNA profile that repeats itself again and again is the defendant's."

Jurors deliberated about 1 1/2 days before finding Franklin guilty of the killings, which occurred between 1985 and 1988 and 2002 and 2007, with the assailant dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because of what was believed to be a 13-year break in the killings.

The verdict was reached a week ago. Franklin was convicted of killing:

-- Debra Jackson, 29, found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;

-- Henrietta Wright, a 34-year-old mother of five who was shot twice in the chest and found in an alley with a cloth gag stuffed in her mouth on Aug. 12, 1986;

-- Barbara Ware, 23, shot once in the chest and found under a pile of debris and garbage in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;

-- Bernita Sparks, 26, shot once in the chest and found in a trash bin with her shirt and pants unbuttoned on April 16, 1987;

-- Mary Lowe, 26, shot in the chest and found in an alley with her pants unzipped behind a large shrub on Nov. 1, 1987;

-- Lachrica Jefferson, 22, found dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest -- with a napkin over her face with the handwritten word "AIDS" on it -- in an alley on Jan. 30, 1988;

-- Alicia Alexander, 18, killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and found naked under a blue foam mattress in an alley on Sept. 11, 1988;

-- Princess Berthomieux, 15, strangled and discovered naked and hidden in shrubbery in an alley in Inglewood on March 9, 2002;

-- Valerie McCorvey, 35, strangled and found dead with her clothes pulled down at the entrance to a locked alley on July 11, 2003; and

-- Janecia Peters, 25, shot in the back and found naked inside a sealed plastic trash bag in a trash bin in an alley on Jan. 1, 2007.

Franklin has remained jailed without bail since his arrest in July 2010 by LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division detectives.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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