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Couple Accused of Killing Special Needs Son and Burning House Were Inspired by Manchester by the Sea, Prosecutor Says

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Shocking new allegations emerged in court Friday when prosecutors said the upstate New York parents accused of murdering their special needs son — and burning their house down to cover it up – came up with the idea after watching the movie Manchester by the Sea.

On Feb. 28, 16-year-old Jeffrey Franklin was found dead after a fire at the Mount Upton, New York, home he shared with his adoptive parents, Ernest Franklin, 35, and Heather Franklin, 33, who are now charged in his death.

An investigation after the fire revealed that Jeffrey, a special needs child who was deaf, did not have smoke or soot in his mouth, trachea or bronchi — which would have been present if he had died as a result of the fire, according to court records.

According to a transcript of a Friday bail review obtained by PEOPLE, Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride alleged that on the night of the murder, Heather Franklin watched the Oscar-nominated movie, Manchester by the Sea, in which the main character, played by Casey Affleck, kills his children in an accidental fire.

Affleck’s character is told in the movie that you can’t be prosecuted for accidentally killing his children, McBride told the judge. “Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant and her husband, Jeffrey’s deceased,” McBride said.

According to McBride, the boy, whom the Franklins adopted in approximately 2012, had bowel issues and urine control issues.

“There was a very big strain on the family relationship because of Jeffrey’s special needs and that this defendant was complaining on Facebook about the strain that that was putting on her,” McBride said in the transcript.

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Prior to Jeffrey’s death, McBride alleged Heather Franklin “inexplicably left the house.” She allegedly drove around Chenango County and Delaware County and didn’t return home “until the fire totally engulfs the house,” McBride said.

Heather Franklin told police she went to the Price Chopper in Sidney and then the Norwich Wal-Mart looking for a certain prescription drug, according to the transcript. But McBride said evidence shows she never went to the aisle in either store where the drug was located.

Addressing Ernest Franklin’s alleged role in the scheme, McBride said that “the defendant, with all due respect, was not injured in any way trying to save the alleged — the victim in this particular case.”

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When police arrived, McBride said “the defendant was very calm, cool, collected and pointed to the room where Jeffrey was lying, and the defendant had no physical injuries from any attempt to try to save him.

“It later turned out, Judge, that after the examination of the — of the victim’s body, it was determined that the victim was killed before the fire and that there were no natural causes,” McBride said.

Mother is Pregnant with Another Child

In speaking to the court, Heather Franklin’s attorney, Michael Trosset, said, according to the transcript, “She is innocent until proven guilty.”

Trosset tells PEOPLE that McBride admitted in court that Jeffrey’s cause of death is not known.
The district attorney is “charging her with murder without even knowing what caused the death,” Trosset said in court.

Since she is pregnant with another child, Trosset also said, according to the transcript, “We will post a reasonable amount of bail and she will stay in this county and she will be able to care for her child in her womb.

“She’s a high-risk pregnancy. She already lost one child to a miscarriage a year and a half ago. She deserves to be let free and work toward defending herself.”

Heather and Ernest Franklin were indicted on March 24 on charges of second-degree murder, according to the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office in New York.

Ernest Franklin, an Iraq War veteran, and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, were also charged with third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence.

Ernest Franklin is being held on $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond. Heather Franklin is being held on $125,000 or $250,000 bond.

If convicted, both of the Franklins face up to 25 years to life in prison.

They are both being held at the Chenango County Jail.

The attorney for Ernest Franklin and the district attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.