Garbage collector sentenced to death in ‘Grim Sleeper’ serial killer case
The California serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper has been sentenced to death for a homicidal spree which targeted poor black women over two decades.
Lonnie Franklin, 63, a former garbage collector, appeared impassive as he was sentenced on Wednesday for murdering a teenage girl and nine women in southern Los Angeles between 1985 and 2007.
“What you’ve done is not justifiable under the laws of God or laws of man,” superior court judge Kathleen Kennedy told him as victims’ relatives looked on, some in tears. Others sighed and said “amen”.
The judge read the names of the 10 victims, pausing each time to say: “You shall suffer the death penalty.”
The sentence put fresh scrutiny on California’s controversial death penalty system, which both opponents and advocates consider dysfunctional and a waste of money.
The Grim Sleeper nickname was coined for an apparent 13-year hiatus in slayings but authorities now think Franklin never rested. During the penalty phase of his trial prosecutors linked him to five additional murders. Detectives believe he may have killed at least 25 women.
Some were drug addicts and prostitutes and nearly all were from poor, marginalised neighbourhoods. Community members complained it took police two decades to link the cases to a single killer. Most were shot at close range, though two were strangled and two were both strangled and shot.
The 2007 murder prompted a task force to re-investigate previous cases. DNA from Franklin’s son showed similarities to genetic evidence found on some victims. A detective posing as a busboy at a pizza parlour retrieved utensils and crusts touched by Franklin during a birthday party. Lab results connected him to some of the victims.
Franklin, who also worked as a garage attendant for LA police, was convicted in May after a lengthy trial. He denied any involvement in the murders but did not speak in his defence. His lawyers suggested a “mystery man” was the real killer and asked jurors to spare Franklin’s life. They voted for the death penalty.
Judge Kennedy said before the sentencing on Wednesday she did not buy the argument that California’s death penalty was unconstitutional, saying overwhelming evidence supported capital punishment in this case. She rejected a defence request for a new trial on grounds of alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
In the trial prosecutors produced DNA, ballistics, photos and testimony of the sole known survivor, Enietra Washington, who escaped after being shot. A Polaroid photo of her partly nude and bleeding was found in Franklin’s garage. “That’s the person who shot me,” Washington told the court, pointing at the defendant.
Deputy district attorney Beth Silverman said Franklin’s motive was evil and irredeemable. “He is a psychopathic, sadistic serial killer who takes joy in inflicting pain on women and killing them.”
The capital sentence followed an emotional hearing during which victims’ relatives confronted Franklin.
“The defendant took my daughter, murdered her, put her in a plastic bag – a trash bag – like she was trash,” Laverne Peters, whose 25-year-old daughter was found in a dumpster in 2007, told the court. “My hope is that he spends the rest of his glory days in his jail cell, which will become his trash bag,” her mother said.
Mary Alexander, whose 18-year-old daughter was murdered, asked Franklin to turn around and face her, an exchange reported in the LA Times. He did, and held her gaze.
“I’d like to know, why?” Alexander asked. Franklin whispered something inaudible.
Alexander, louder: “Why?” Franklin again muttered something inaudible.
“I know she didn’t do anything to hurt you,” said Alexander. “I know that.” Franklin nodded.
Alexander said she was struggling to forgive him. “I’m still battling that.”
Franklin nodded and turned back to the judge.
He becomes the 747th person on death row in California, more than any other US state. Multiple obstacles delay executions and California has not had one in over a decade. The oldest death row inmate is 86. Some 11 per cent are senior citizens. The average stay is 18 years.
November’s ballot will give voters a choice between Proposition 62 and Proposition 66.
Proposition 62 would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole and oblige offenders to work and pay restitution.
Proposition 66 would streamline the appeals process, expand the pool of attorneys available for appeals, and allow the state to place those on death row in cheaper housing as they await execution.