The upstate New York mom accused with her husband of killing their adopted special needs son and burning their house in a plot inspired by the movie Manchester by the Sea had been a foster parent to multiple children, court records reveal.
Heather Franklin, 33, and husband Ernest Franklin II, 35, are accused of murdering their son Jeffrey Franklin, 16, and then covering it up by burning down their house.
During a bail review hearing last Friday, Heather Franklin’s lawyer, Michael Trosset said his client has no criminal record and said she had been a foster parent, which he said was a testament to her good character.
“We’ve had multiple governmental agencies which have granted her the right to adopt,” said Trosset, according to the transcript of the hearing, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
“She’s been a foster parent with multiple foster children in her house,” he continued. “She has been evaluated and vetted to take responsibility, and I don’t think they give that responsibility to someone with poor character.”
Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride responded by saying that he believed the Department of Social Services had revoked her license to be a foster parent.
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“It was not revoked,” Trosset replied. “They withdrew from the process after the adoption. In 2015 they withdrew from the foster parenting program and it was not revoked formally.”
A Department of Social Services spokesperson would not comment.
According to court records obtained by PEOPLE, in 2012 or so, Ernest Franklin, an Iraqi War veteran, and Heather Franklin, a stay-at-home mom who espoused homeschooling, adopted Jeffrey, a foster child with special needs who was also deaf. Jeffrey had originally been the couple’s foster child.
An investigation after the fire on the night of Feb. 28 revealed that Jeffrey 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 obtained by PEOPLE.
The Franklins, who live in Guilford, New York, were indicted on March 24 on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. They are being held at the Chenango County Jail.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
The Alleged Plot
In one of the most sensational revelations in court Friday, McBride accused the Franklins of killing their son two hours after watching Manchester by the Sea. In the movie, a father, played by Casey Affleck, who won an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the man, accidentally burns his house down, killing his three children.
The father is told that he can’t be prosecuted for their deaths because the fire was accidental.
After watching the movie, the Franklins came up with the idea to kill their son – and get away with it, McBride alleges.
“Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant and her husband, Jeffrey’s deceased,” McBride said in court.
Ernest Franklin, he alleges, “starts a fire in a wood stove in the home, leaves the door open and claims to have left the house to go retrieve his dogs, who he claims have run over the hill.”
While Ernest is looking for the dogs, his wife, “inexplicably left the house, driving around Chenango County and Delaware County,” he says.
She didn’t return, he says, “until the fire totally engulfs the house.”
What struck McBride as suspicious, he said in court, is that Heather Franklin, who is pregnant — and was pregnant at the time — drove around from 11:30 p.m. that night until 2 or 2:30 a.m., when she returned home.
McBride added that Heather did not even have a driver’s license “because her license was either revoked or suspended.”
And while Heather told police she drove to a nearby Wal-Mart and then to a Price Chopper to look for a particular drug, McBride said evidence shows she never went down the aisle where that drug was located in the store.
“I believe it’s a very, very, very compelling and a very strong circumstantial case,” McBride said.
Defense Attorneys Deride Prosecution’s Theory
Trosset said Heather Franklin wasn’t in the house when the fire started and adds, “To have arson, you have to be there.” He also notes that authorities are unsure what caused Jeffrey’s death.
He adds, “Holding her in jail because she went out driving is all circumstantial evidence, in the middle of the night, there’s a lot of people in this county guilty of that and neighboring towns.”
He also dismissed McBride’s accusation that his client and her husband were inspired to kill their son after watching a movie as “a leap.”
“He hangs his head on his interpretation of a movie Manchester by the Sea and pulls out language,” he says. “I watched the movie and I didn’t hear that language. I interpret that movie with a much different theme and thesis than what is being portrayed here.”
Ernest Franklin’s lawyer, assistant public defender Zachary Wentworth, had no comment about the case except to say that his client is innocent until proven guilty and that the prosecution’s theory about Manchester by the Sea “makes for good headlines and is very intriguing.”