DNA and firearms evidence links a man charged in the "Grim Sleeper" serial killings to the murders of nine women and a teenage girl in a crime spree stretching over more than two decades, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Lonnie David Franklin Jr., 63, is charged with killing the nine women, who were mostly in their 20s, and a 15-year-old girl. Their bodies were dumped in alleys and trash bins in and around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated Los Angeles County.
Franklin is also charged with the attempted murder of another woman, Enietra Washington, who survived being shot in the chest and pushed out of a moving vehicle.
"The evidence in this case will tell a story, a story of a serial killer who stalked the streets of South Los Angeles, a serial killer who is responsible for the murders of 10 women" and the attempted murder of another woman, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told the panel of six men and six women in a packed downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
One of Franklin's attorneys, Seymour Amster, told the judge the defense was reserving its opening statement until the defense begins its portion of the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Franklin, a one-time city employee, in a trial expected to last about three months. The killings occurred between 1985 and 1988, and 2002 and 2007, with the assailant dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because of the apparent 13-year break in the killings.
The prosecutor told jurors the killings began during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and proved to be the "perfect opportunity for someone who preyed on women."
"It was the perfect place and time for a serial killer to roam the streets of Los Angeles, really without detection," Silverman told jurors, noting that some of the victims were addicted to crack cocaine and some were involved in prostitution. She noted that the series of killings "followed a pattern," with all of the victims being "African-American women and girls" who were "dumped like trash" and most being left in various stages of undress.
The cause of death was also similar throughout, with most of the victims being shot in the chest or being strangled, she told jurors. The prosecutor said all of the victims were "connected to the same serial killer" either through DNA evidence or firearms evidence.
"And that serial killer, ladies and gentlemen, is the defendant Lonnie Franklin," Silverman told jurors.
Eight of the victims were linked through firearms evidence, and DNA collected from seven of the victims was linked to the same male profile, the deputy district attorney said, noting that the male profile was matched to "the defendant's unique DNA profile" during a Los Angeles Police Department task force investigation into the killings.
The only woman to survive the attacks was shot, sexually assaulted and a Polaroid photo was taken of her as she faded in and out of consciousness during the Nov. 20, 1988, attack, Silverman said. A photo of a bleeding Washington was subsequently recovered during a three-day search of Franklin's home by a team of investigators after his arrest in July 2010, the prosecutor said. Silverman warned jurors that the crime scene and autopsy photos of the victims were "extremely disturbing" before the pictures were shown on a large courtroom screen.
Franklin is charged with murdering:
-- Debra Jackson, 29, who was found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;
-- Henrietta Wright, 34, who was shot twice in the chest and found dead in an alley on Aug. 12, 1986;
-- Barbara Ware, 23, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;
-- Bernita Sparks, 26, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in a trash bin on on April 15, 1987;
-- Mary Lowe, 26, who was shot in the chest and found dead in an alley on Nov. 1, 1987;
-- Lachrica Jefferson, 22, who was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Jan. 30, 1988;
-- Alicia Alexander, 18, who was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and found in an alley on Sept. 11, 1988;
-- Princess Berthomieux, 15, who was strangled and discovered in an alley in Inglewood on March 19, 2002;
-- Valerie McCorvey, 35, who was strangled with a ligature and found dead at the entrance to an alley on July 11, 2003; and
-- Janecia Peters, 25, who was shot in the back and found dead inside a sealed plastic trash bag in a trash bin in an alley on Jan. 1, 2007.
Franklin denied having contact with any of the victims, calling one of them "fat" and one of them "butt ugly" while being questioned by police after his arrest, the prosecutor said. Authorities said after Franklin's arrest that he was identified as a suspect using familial DNA -- investigators determined that his son had DNA similar to the killer, and when they subsequently obtained Franklin's DNA, his genetic material allegedly matched forensic evidence from eight killings between 1985 and 1988, and three killings between 2001 and 2007.
Detectives have said since Franklin was taken into custody and held without bail that they were also investigating whether he might be connected to the disappearances or deaths of eight other women whose photos were found in his home near 81st Street and Harvard Boulevard.