To family and friends, Ernest and Heather Franklin seemed to provide a loving home to Jeffrey, the special needs child they adopted at 11.
They took him on fun trips, like one to see a locomotive train. They treated him to the 3D movies he loved.
But Facebook posts before March 1 — when Jeffrey, now 16, was found dead after a large fire his parents are accused of setting to cover up his alleged murder — give a different glimpse of their home life and reveal how raising him allegedly “caused stress in the family,” according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.
The Franklins were arrested on March 22 after autopsy results revealed that Jeffrey, who they called JR, died before the fire at the family’s home in Guilford, New York. They were indicted on March 24 on charges of arson and second-degree murder in connection with his death. They both pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
While Heather’s lawyer has called the case “circumstantial” in court, Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride alleges that the Franklins murdered their son after watching the 2016 Oscar-winning film, Manchester by the Sea, which depicts a character who is not criminally charged after his children die in an accidental fire.
Based on conversations Heather, 33, had with a friend on Facebook on Feb. 23, McBride alleges in court papers that she and Ernest, 35, were “treating Jeffrey inappropriately partly due to his disabilities, which caused stress in the family.”
On March 3, two days after Jeffrey died, Heather, who was 23 weeks pregnant at the time, thanked family and friends on Facebook for the outpouring of support she and Ernest had received, saying she was “having a hard time coping.”
But prior to that, on Feb. 23, Heather, who had been a foster mom to Jeffrey before she and Ernest adopted him in 2012, voiced her frustrations on Facebook about raising a developmentally disabled boy who was deaf and unable to speak.
“Been struggling with jr,” she wrote to a friend on Facebook, according to court records. “I guess no real surprise there.”
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Telling Heather she was praying for her and Ernest about JR, the friend wrote, “I know it’s always hard. Same old, same old or some new problems?”
“Both,” Heather replied. “He is peeing in his room again. For about the past 2 or 3 weeks. Almost nightly. Last episode of this was last summer. So went a few months with nothing…now he started it again. His room smells so bad! Every day it’s the same thing, cleaning pee…it’s crazy.”
She told her friend that he was “currently on restriction till Tuesday. Depending if there is more pee between now and then.”
Then she wrote, “I so badly want out…dealing with jr peeing all over his room again for past few weeks. It punishes me more than him.”
While Ernest remains in the Chenango County Correctional Facility, Heather was released on bail and is living with friends, according to court records.
Heather’s lawyer, Michael Trosset, says his client is “innocent until proven guilty” and that McBride’s allegation about Manchester by the Sea “is a leap,” according to court records.
Ernest’s lawyer, public defender Zachary T. Wentworth, adds, “It is important that the public realizes that the theory being advanced by the DA is just that, a theory. One meant to sway the public opinion on this case long before Mr. or Mrs. Franklin are provided a fair trial.”