World

Trial of alleged 'Grim Sleeper' serial killer begins with display of graphic photos

Prosecutor Beth Silverman showed graphic photos of the 10 victims to a packed courtroom as the long-awaited "Grim Sleeper" trial began on Tuesday, more than 30 years since the first victim's death.

Lonnie Franklin Jr. has pleaded not guilty to killing 9 women and a 15-year-old girl

Lonnie David Franklin Jr. has pleaded not guilty to killing nine women and a 15-year-old girl between 1985 and 2007. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

Their bodies were dumped in alleys and garbage bins in south Los Angeles, some naked, some covered with mattresses and trash. Most had been fatally shot in the chest after some type of sexual contact, others strangled.

As prosecutor Beth Silverman showed photo after photo of the 10 victims to a packed courtroom on Tuesday, family members of the dead young women shook as they wept. Some covered their faces, others had to walk out.

It was an emotional beginning to the long-awaited "Grim Sleeper" trial, which comes more than 30 years since the first victim's death.

Lonnie Franklin Jr. has pleaded not guilty to killing nine women and a 15-year-old girl 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.

Franklin, 63, has been awaiting trial behind bars for nearly six years since his arrest in July 2010. The trial is expected to last up to four months.

Victims had cocaine in their systems

In opening statements to jurors Tuesday, 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."

Autopsies showed all but one victim had cocaine in their systems when they were killed, and some had turned to prostitution.

"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."

Silverman continued: "It was the perfect place and time for a serial killer to roam the streets of Los Angeles, really without detection."

30 detectives investigated the killings

Franklin's attorney, Seymour Amster, won't deliver his opening statements until later in the trial.

Last week, Amster told The Associated Press that "it's not over until it's over."

"There's more to it than people want to believe," Amster said. "It's up to the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt."

As many as 30 detectives investigated the Grim Sleeper killings in the 1980s, but they exhausted leads within a few years.

A special squad of detectives was assembled after the most recent known Grim Sleeper killing, the June 2007 shooting of Janecia Peters, 25, whose naked body was found in the fetal position inside a trash bag.

Police arrested Franklin in July 2010 after his DNA was connected to more than a dozen crime scenes. An officer posing as a busboy at a pizza parlour got DNA samples from dishes and utensils Franklin had been eating with at a birthday party.

Family members of the Grim Sleeper victims and a survivor of the attacks have been frustrated by repeated delays in the case and were eager for the opening statements.

At least 2 other serial killers

The Grim Sleeper was among at least three serial killers who stalked Los Angeles-area women during a 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.

Chester Turner has been convicted of killing 14 women, including one who was pregnant, and was sentenced to death in 2007. Michael Hughes was sentenced to death in 2012 for strangling a 15-year-old girl and two women. He previously got life for four killings.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now