Crime & Justice

Jurors begin debating fate of Grim Sleeper serial murderer

DNA evidence led to the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr., convicted in the Grim Sleeper serial murders.
DNA evidence led to the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr., convicted in the Grim Sleeper serial murders.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Jurors in the Grim Sleeper serial murder trial Friday began deliberating on whether Lonnie Franklin Junior should get the death penalty or life in prison.

The same jury convicted Franklin last month of killing ten women and trying to kill another between 1985 and 2007. The victims were all African-American women in South Los Angeles.

During arguments before the jury Friday, defense attorney Dave Atherton said Franklin, 63, should get life in prison. He argued the penalty is more in line with society’s values.

“Hatred and revenge is easy. Mercy and forgiveness is hard,” Atherton said. He promised jurors they would “heal more hearts” deciding against the death penalty.

Prosecutors said the only just punishment is death, and introduced evidence in court that Franklin committed additional murders. They also called to testify an early victim of Franklin, a 17-year-old German girl Franklin was convicted of raping while he was in the U.S. Army stationed near Stuttgard.

Many victims’ family members also want death for Franklin, including Donnell Alexander, whose 18-year-old little sister was among Franklin’s victims.

“He killed over and over and over and over with no remorse,” Alexander said as jurors began deliberations. “I think that his is one that is deserving of the death penalty.”

Atherton, however, used his closing statements to try to throw doubt on Franklin's guilt.

He said many of the victims in the case had DNA on them not just from Franklin but other men as well, and suggested they may have been murdered by someone else.

“Before you vote for the death penalty, wouldn’t you like to know who all these people are and whether they had anything to do with Lonnie Franklin,” Atherton asked.

The only gun recovered in the case was used in just one of the murders. Another gun of the same type allegedly used in the other murders was never found, Atherton pointed out.

But Atherton largely focused his arguments to the jury on the morality of the death penalty.

“I promise you, you will heal more hearts, you bind up more wounds, you will grab more peace if you vote for life than if you vote for death,” Atherton said. “To do so would require your better angels and to do so would be truly heroic.”

Alexander hoped the arguments would not sway the jury. At the same time, he said he would be at peace with whatever the jury who convicted Franklin decided to do with him.

“We can live with that,” Alexander said, “because it’s not going to bring my sister back one way or the other.” 

Currently, there are 747 inmates on California's Death Row. There has not been an execution in the state since 2006, when a federal judge halted capital punishment, calling California's lethal injection process unconstitutional.