Repeated Trial Delays in Grim Sleeper Murder Case Frustrates Families

Grim Sleeper serial killer suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. was charged in 2010 with 10 murders and one attempted murder

Photo: AP

For the past five years Porter Alexander and his family have driven from South Los Angeles to the criminal courts building in Downtown Los Angeles. Every two weeks, they have made the trip to attend pretrial hearings for Grim Sleeper serial killer suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr.

Franklin, a married father of two and former LAPD mechanic and sanitation worker for the city of Los Angeles, was charged in July 2010 with 10 murders and one attempted murder. He faces the death penalty for the alleged 23-year murder spree that began on Jan. 15, 1984, when Sharon Dismuke was discovered shot in the chest in the restroom of an abandoned gas station.

More than five years after his arrest, the trial has yet to start, despite pleas from victim’s family members, including Porter Alexander whose 18-year-old daughter Monique was found dead on Sept. 11, 1988, in a South Los Angeles alley. She had been sexually assaulted, strangled and shot once in the chest.

“It is frustrating,” says Alexander who blames the delays on defense stall tactics. “I don t quite understand how the judge is allowing the defense attorney to say and do the things he is doing and get away with it. I don’t understand why the judge allows him to disrespect her and the court. Why are we letting him play games with us? It is mind-boggling.”

At a court hearing Monday, the repeated trial delays took center stage, with Los Angeles prosecutor Beth Silverman criticizing Franklin’s defense attorney, Seymour Amster, for failing to turn over key witness statements including psychiatrists who evaluated Franklin, in a timely manner, calling his tactics “pure gamesmanship.”

“This is not gamesmanship,” retorted Amster at one point during the contentious hearing that had victims’ family members sighing in frustration. “This is not trying to do anything by ambush.”

The latest court battle was prompted by Amster giving the prosecution team a list of 142 defense witnesses he may call to testify during the trial or penalty phase. The witness list includes friends of Franklin who appeared in the HBO documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper, family members of victims of Chester Turner, one of several serial killers who preyed on young black women in South Los Angeles in the ’80s and ’90s, as well as people who are dead.

The back and forth bickering between the two attorneys caused Los Angeles judge Kathleen Kennedy to comment, “Well, apparently there is no love lost between you.”

“Zero,” responded Silverman.

“You know what, your honor?” said Amster. “I would stipulate to that one.”

“And I would agree with counsel for the first time.”

Most of Franklin’s alleged victims were shot with a .25-caliber pistol while others were strangled. Their bodies were discovered in Dumpsters and alleyways along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles, an area known for its cheap motels, liquor stores, gambling parlors, auto salvage yards and storefront churches.

His youngest alleged victim, 15-year-old runaway Princess Berthomieux, was found strangled in an alley in Inglewood in 2002. He was tied to the cases through ballistics and DNA evidence.

Police suspect that he may have killed at least six additional women in addition to the 10 whose deaths he’s charged with.

Franklin, a former corporal in the United States Army, was finally caught through familial DNA testing after his 28-year-old son, Christopher, was arrested for carrying a weapon in the summer of 2009 and had to give up a DNA swab. Once it was determined that Christopher was related to the killer, detectives followed the elder Franklin to a pizza place in Long Beach. As Franklin finished his meal, a detective who posed as a busboy collected a fork, two plastic cups, a plate and a pizza slice left by Franklin. A few days later, DNA taken from the pizza slice came back as a match to DNA found on alleged Grim Sleeper victim Barbara Ware.

A new trial date has been set for Oct. 14.

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