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Jury Set for Defense’s Portion of Case in Alleged ‘Grim Sleeper’ Trial

The latest courts news coming out of the Westside (Thinkstock).
The latest courts news coming out of the Westside (Thinkstock).

There was courtroom drama today in the trial of a man accused in the “Grim Sleeper” killings of nine women and a teenage girl, with the defendant’s attorney threatening to walk out without presenting any defense over the judge’s planned rejection of a subpoena relating to the handling of evidence.

Outside the presence of the jury, Seymour Amster, an attorney representing accused serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr., became so upset over the subpoena issue that he said he would simply rest his case without calling a single witness because he would be left without a defense to present.

Amster said he wants to subpoena Los Angeles Police Department records over the “chain of custody” of evidence relating to the victims. But Los Angeles Superior Court Kathleen Kennedy said she planned to quash the subpoena, calling it too broad and saying much of the information being requested had already been made available during the prosecution’s case.

Amster is scheduled to begin presenting his case today, starting with a roughly hour-long opening statement. The proceedings were delayed, however, over the subpoena issue and other motions.

When Amster threatened to simply rest his case without presenting a defense, Kennedy said she would not simply quash the subpoena, but would give Amster 72 hours to narrow his request. The defense attorney said he believes the LAPD can print out the information he wants in less than an hour, but he believes the City Attorney’s Office is working with prosecutors to block his access to the information.

The court then took a recess before moving ahead with the defense case.

The defense opted not to give an opening statement last month, instead reserving it until the defense’s case.

Franklin, a 63-year-old former city garage attendant and sanitation worker, is charged with the murders of  nine women, who were mostly in their 20s, and a 15-year-old girl, and dumping their bodies in alleys and trash bins in and around South Los Angeles, Inglewood and unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Franklin is also charged with the attempted murder of another woman, Enietra Washington, who survived being shot in the chest and pushed out of a moving vehicle in November 1988.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Franklin.

Franklin’s attorney told the judge at a hearing outside the jury’s presence Friday that he expected the defense’s case to begin with testimony from police officers who interviewed Washington after she was shot.

During the prosecution’s case-in-chief, Washington identified Franklin in court as her assailant and said he took a Polaroid-type photo of her after shooting her.

Jurors also watched a videotape of Franklin being interrogated by Los Angeles Police Department detectives. He denied killing anyone, but called one of the victims “butt ugly” and another “fat” after the detectives showed him photos of them.

In her opening statement last month, Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told jurors that DNA and firearms evidence linked Franklin to the attacks.

“The evidence in this case will tell a story, a story of a serial killer who stalked the streets of South Los Angeles, a serial killer who is responsible for the murders of 10 women” and the attempted murder of another woman, the prosecutor told jurors.

The killings occurred between 1985 and 1988, and 2002 and 2007, with the assailant dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” because of the apparent 13-year break in the killings.

Most of the victims were shot in the chest or strangled, Silverman said.

The prosecutor said all of the victims were “connected to the same serial killer” either through DNA evidence or firearms evidence.

“And that serial killer, ladies and gentlemen, is the defendant Lonnie Franklin,” Silverman told the jury.

Eight of the victims were linked through firearms evidence, and DNA collected from seven of the victims was linked to the same male profile, she said, noting that the male profile was matched to “the defendant’s unique DNA profile” during an LAPD task force investigation into the killings.

Franklin is charged with murdering:

— Debra Jackson, 29, who was found dead from three gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Aug. 10, 1985;

— Henrietta Wright, 34, who was shot twice in the chest and found dead in an alley on Aug. 12, 1986;

— Barbara Ware, 23, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in an alley on Jan. 10, 1987;

— Bernita Sparks, 26, who was shot once in the chest and found dead in a trash bin on on April 15, 1987;

— Mary Lowe, 26, who was shot in the chest and found dead in an alley on Nov. 1, 1987;

— Lachrica Jefferson, 22, who was found dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest in an alley on Jan. 30, 1988;

— Alicia Alexander, 18, who was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and found in an alley on Sept. 11, 1988;

— Princess Berthomieux, 15, who was strangled and discovered in an alley in Inglewood on March 19, 2002;

— Valerie McCorvey, 35, who was strangled with a ligature and found dead at the entrance to an alley on July 11, 2003; and

— Janecia Peters, 25, who was shot in the back and found dead inside a sealed plastic trash bag in a trash bin in an alley on Jan. 1, 2007.

Authorities said after Franklin’s arrest that he was identified as a suspect using familial DNA — investigators determined that his son had DNA similar to the killer, and when they subsequently got Franklin’s DNA, his genetic material allegedly matched forensic evidence from eight killings between 1985 and 1988, and three killings between 2001 and 2007.

Detectives have said since Franklin was taken into custody in July 2010 that they were also investigating whether he might be connected to the disappearances or deaths of eight other women whose photos were found in his home near 81st Street and Harvard Boulevard.

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