Defense to target DNA in ‘Grim Sleeper’ serial killing trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The attorney for a man charged with killing nine women and a 15-year-old girl in the “Grim Sleeper” case in Los Angeles plans to cast doubt in the minds of jurors Monday by focusing on DNA evidence found on the victims.
Lonnie Franklin Jr., 63, has pleaded not guilty to 10 murders between 1985 and 2007 in one of the city’s most notorious serial killer cases.
The Grim Sleeper nickname was coined because of an apparent 14-year gap in the murders between 1988 and 2002.
Police have dueling theories about the gap. Some think the killings stopped after one intended victim survived in 1988, scaring off the attacker. Other investigators believe there were more victims but their bodies just weren’t found.
Franklin’s attorney, Seymour Amster, declined to discuss his case in detail, but he has said there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Amster said last week that his defense will be centered around DNA evidence found on the victims that was not connected to Franklin. He declined to elaborate.
Amster will deliver his opening statements to jurors on Monday, more than a month since the trail began with prosecutor Beth Silverman showing jurors photos of the 10 victims, who were between the ages of 15 and 35.
Their bodies were dumped in alleys and garbage bins in south Los Angeles, some naked, some covered with mattresses and trash. Most had been shot in the chest after some type of sexual contact, others strangled.
While Franklin’s DNA has been connected to the crime scenes, some of the women’s bodies contained other DNA.
Autopsies showed all but one victim had cocaine in their systems when they were killed. Some had turned to prostitution.
In her opening statement to jurors, Silverman said Franklin took advantage of the crack cocaine epidemic in south Los Angeles, targeting women “willing to sell their bodies and their souls in order to gratify their dependency on this powerful drug.”
“This was the perfect opportunity for someone who preyed on women,” Silverman said. “Someone who knew the streets and the dark alleys by heart, someone who lived there and was able to blend in, someone who knew where the drug-addicted women and perhaps prostitutes would congregate and who knew how to lure potential victims into the darkness and the isolation of a vehicle through the promise of crack.”
As many as 30 detectives investigated the Grim Sleeper killings in the 1980s. They exhausted leads within a few years.
A special squad of detectives was assembled after the most recent killing, the June 2007 shooting of 25-year-old Janecia Peters, whose naked body was found in the fetal position inside a trash bag.
Police arrested Franklin three years later after his DNA was connected to more than a dozen crime scenes. An officer posing as a busboy at a pizza parlor got DNA samples from dishes and utensils Franklin had been using at a birthday party.
The Grim Sleeper was among at least three serial killers who stalked Los Angeles-area women during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. The attacks were dubbed the “Southside Slayer” killings before authorities concluded more than one attacker was involved.