Prosecutor: Evidence speaks for 10 ‘Grim Sleeper’ victims

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – The victims were all young black women, some were prostitutes and most had been using cocaine before their bodies were discovered in alleys in a rough part of Los Angeles, hidden in trash bins or covered in mattresses or debris.

For decades, the serial killer dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” eluded police, dumping at least 10 bodies and leaving one woman for dead after shooting her in the chest.

After months of testimony, a prosecutor Monday said that the evidence overwhelmingly points to Lonnie Franklin Jr., speaking for the vulnerable victims he silenced as he spent years hiding in plain sight.

“How do we figure out what happened here? How do we know who committed these crimes?” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman asked as she closed her case in Los Angeles Superior Court.

“Ten of the victims can’t tell you themselves. The defendant took their voices when he brutally murdered them. … The evidence in this case is the voice of the victims.”

Franklin, 63, a former garbage collector who also worked as a mechanic on Los Angeles Police Department vehicles, faces the death penalty if convicted of the slayings of a 15-year-old girl and nine young women. He has pleaded not guilty to murder, and to attempted murder in the case of the one victim who survived.

Defense attorney Seymour Amster has challenged the DNA and ballistics evidence, telling jurors that many victims had DNA from more than one man on their bodies, and that more than 20 DNA tests excluded his client.

The killings in South Los Angeles were dubbed the work of the “Grim Sleeper” because of a 14-year break between 1985 and 2007 when bodies stopped appearing, but prosecutors believe his violence never ceased.

The most riveting witness was the sole known survivor.

Enietra Washington described being shot in the chest and sexually assaulted in 1988. She noticed her attacker taking a Polaroid picture of her before pushing her out of his car.

When Franklin was finally arrested 22 years later, the same photograph – showing the wounded woman slouched over in a car – was one of many pictures found in his possession, prosecutors said. When his arrest was announced six years ago, authorities displayed dozens of photos of black women and appealed for the public’s help in identifying them. This trial has been focused on ten victims, but police suspect there were more.

Silverman said Franklin was connected to all 10 through ballistics or DNA evidence. She also pointed out the similarities in all the killings.

Most of the women were shot in the left side of the chest with a .25 caliber pistol or strangled. Their bodies were all found in alleys, where they were dumped in bushes, or trash bins, or hidden under mattresses. Franklin targeted women who were “willing to sell their bodies and their souls in order to gratify their dependency on this powerful drug,” Silverman said earlier.

Family members wept and some doubled over to avoid looking as photos of partly naked and decomposing bodies were shown to the jury on a big screen.

The body of Janecia Peters, the final victim, was found in a fetal position in a trash bin, her red nails visible through a hole in a garbage bag that was discovered by someone rifling through the trash. Franklin’s DNA was found on a zip tie securing the bag.

Twenty years earlier and only a block away, another victim, Benita Sparks, was found.

“Is that merely another coincidence?” said Silverman, who described the agonizing way Peters had been strangled for two to three minutes after suffering a paralyzing shot in the back.

Franklin was finally arrested in 2010 after a police officer posed as a pizza parlor bus boy to collect DNA samples from dishes and utensils he used at a birthday party.

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