It's been more than five years since Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested, and more than four years since he was indicted for the killings of nine women and one man. The long-delayed trial was supposed to start on Sept. 9. Now it's been put off, yet again, until Oct. 14. At the earliest.
Franklin is charged with 10 counts of murder, part of a spate of killings that took place in Los Angeles from 1985 to 2007, with a 13-year break in the middle. That long rest from killing gave the apparent serial killer the moniker the Grim Sleeper, coined by L.A. Weekly reporter-editor duo Christine Pelisek and Jill Stewart.
Franklin's trial has been postponed and postponed in a case that first made headlines around the globe in 2008. That year, then–Weekly investigative reporter Pelisek uncovered LAPD's secret investigation into a longtime mystery serial killer, breaking the news of LAPD's closed-door “800 Task Force” dedicated to hunting down the sly, unnamed predator. His apparent career-long killing spree made him the longest active serial killer west of the Mississippi.
Pelisek wrote a series of in-depth investigations of the Grim Sleeper for the Weekly before LAPD finally identified and arrested Franklin in 2010, thanks to the historic use of “familial DNA” sleuthing in which Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to tap the DNA profiles of every man in the California prison system to compare saliva and other DNA left on Grim Sleeper victims. That move led authorities straight to Franklin's incarcerated son. Police then identified and tracked Lonnie Franklin and ultimately arrested him.
Then last spring, Pelisek wrote “Serial Killer Circus: Accused Grim Sleeper Lonnie Franklin Sometimes Seems in Charge of His L.A. Trial” for the Weekly, updating the legal issues and anger among the victims' families caught up in the saga:
Once Franklin was taken into custody, the victim's families thought the worst was over. They somewhat optimistically believed Franklin's trial would be finished by now, and that he would be sitting on death row.
Instead, Franklin's defense team, led by Seymour Amster, has thrown up a series of procedural hurdles and stall tactics: It is still unclear whether the defense team has finished its testing on the DNA evidence found on the victims, despite having the evidence for months. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy has been unable to speed things along.
Today it would appear that nothing much has changed, despite Judge Kennedy's insistence, according to the City News Service, that “we're not going to keep putting this off endlessly.”
This time it was the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office asking for the delay.
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman said she hadn't received all the discovery she needs from the defense team. Judge Kennedy expressed frustration at both teams of lawyers. She ordered Franklin's defense attorney, Amster, “to make all reports and raw data from potential witnesses available to the prosecution by the end of this month.”
But the judge also admonished Silverman, saying, “`You are as prepared or more prepared than anyone walking the planet to try this case.''
If convicted, the 62-year-old Franklin could face the death penalty. Throughout the ordeal, his wife, an employee at Inglewood Unified School District, remained loyal to Franklin, visiting him in jail.
Former city worker Franklin, who did a stint in non-sworn duties for LAPD, still draws a $1,700 monthly city medical pension for a long-ago claim he made in which he successfully argued that his city job left him with a permanent shoulder injury.
He is accused of 10 murders, most of them women in their 20s, and one 15-year-old girl. Their bodies were found dumped in alleyways and heaved into trash bins. When placed upon a map of South Los Angeles, the body dump sites show Franklin's home very close to the center. He's also charged with attempted murder of a woman who is known as “the sole survivor,” Enietra Washington.
LAPD investigators suspect that Franklin killed many more women. More than 100 photographs of women were discovered in Franklin's possession. Police are asking for help in identifying them all.
According to the City News Service, “Detectives have said since Franklin's arrest that they were 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.”
The case was the subject of a recent Lifetime movie, centered on Pelisek, as well as a Lifetime documentary focused on LAPD detectives, the victims' families and L.A. Weekly, and an even more recent HBO documentary by Nick Broomfield.