Crime & Justice

Grim Sleeper: Closing arguments detail brutality of murders

Defendant Lonnie Franklin Jr. listens during opening statements of his trial. Franklin is accused of serial murders that terrorized South LA.
Defendant Lonnie Franklin Jr. listens during opening statements of his trial. Franklin is accused of serial murders that terrorized South LA.
Al Seib/LA Times via Getty Images

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Prosecutors Monday described accused serial murderer Lonnie Franklin Jr. as a coldblooded killer who enjoyed sexually assaulting his victims before killing them and dumping their bodies in South L.A. alleys and trash bins.

Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman used her closing arguments in the case to describe the ten murders and one attempted murder the so-called "Grim Sleeper" is accused of committing in painstaking detail. The defense team is expected to conclude final statements Tuesday morning in court in Downtown L.A. before sending the case to the jury.

Monday, however, was mostly Silverman's time to speak, and her statements were a thorough recounting of the brutality and depravity heaped upon 11 South Los Angeles women. 

Silverman showed gruesome crime scene photos and DNA evidence that link Franklin to each of the women he allegedly targeted – “all innocent, all brutally murdered.”

Defense attorney Seymour Armster, in the beginning of his closing statements, dismissed the DNA evidence. He called it “inferior technology,” noting the DNA of other men was found on the women as well.

The evidence, he said, is  “circumstantial.”   

Franklin often would pick up his victims along Western Avenue, luring them with drugs or promises of money in exchange for sex, according to Silverman. In each case he was fascinated with their breasts—his saliva was found on the chests of the ten women he is accused of killing, she said.

Franklin allegedly started killing in 1985, when South L.A. was in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic that left many men and women on the street and desperate. In 1989, the murders took a 14-year-break, which inspired the killer's moniker. 

Silverman said the evidence against Franklin, now 63-years-old, is overwhelming.

“Only his unique DNA profile is repeated from victim to victim to victim to victim. No one else,” Silverman told a courtroom full of victim’s friends and family and retired LAPD detectives who worked on the decades old case.

She also said bullets found in seven victims came from a gun found in Franklin’s home, and photos of each of the women and, ominously, dozens more, were found in his garage.

But it was DNA that broke the case in 2010. Detectives ran DNA found at the crime scenes through a state database. The genetic profile of Franklin’s son, who was serving time in state prison, was a close match. Detectives started looking at his father.

They secretly collected Franklin’s DNA from a partially eaten piece of pizza he left on his plate at a restaurant.

Silverman described Franklin as lacking any empathy. When arrested by police and shown photos of his dead victims, he showed no surprise, she said.

“In fact he laughs,” joking how one of the women looks fat in the photo, Silverman said.  “He shows a complete lack of empathy. This defendant is cold as ice.”

Armster, the defense attorney, however, dismissed the evidence against Franklin.

“You don’t have an eyewitness,” he said.  “You don’t even know where the crimes occurred.”

There is enough reasonable doubt about the case against Franklin that the jury must acquit him, Armster said.

“He is entitled to a verdict of not guilty.”

As the two sides argued for a final time over the guilt of Franklin, Kenneitha Lowe watched quietly from one of the wooden benches in the courtroom. Her older sister Mary was killed in 1987—allegedly by Franklin.

Mary was 26 years old at the time. Keneitha was 20.

“It feels like its all coming back,” she said of the sadness and anger over the loss of her sister. She wants Franklin convicted, and sentenced to death.

“If he has us suffering all these years, he needs to suffer also,” she said. “And all of the victims – their spirits will be free at last.”