LOS ANGELES (AP) — By the time police found Alicia Alexander’s naked body under a mattress in an alley in 1988, six other young, Black women had died similar deaths in the neighborhood known as South Central Los Angeles.
Community activist Margaret Prescod, from left, Porter Alexander Jr. and his wife Mary, in red, whose daughter Alicia, 18, was shot and strangled, meet reporters in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, May 5, 2016. Lonnie Franklin Jr., a former Los Angeles trash collector, was convicted Thursday of 10 counts of murder in the “Grim Sleeper” serial killings, including Alicia, that targeted poor, young black women over two decades. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
It would take decades for police to make an arrest and a half dozen more years for justice to reach the families of the victims Thursday when a Los Angeles County jury found a former garbage man guilty of 10 murders known as the “Grim Sleeper” serial killings.
The convicted man, Lonnie Franklin Jr., looked unfazed as the verdicts were read and Alexander’s parents and other victims’ kin in the gallery quietly wept and dabbed their eyes with tissues.
“They read it and I said, ‘We got him,’” Alexander’s father, Porter Alexander Jr., said outside court. “It took all this time, but we got him.”
The killings from 1985 to 2007 were dubbed the work of the “Grim Sleeper” because of an apparent 14-year gap that followed an attempted killing shortly after Alexander, 18, was slain. But prosecutors now think he never rested and there were other victims during that span.
Community members complained that police had not investigated the killings thoroughly because of the victims’ race and the fact some were prostitutes and drug users during the crack cocaine epidemic.
The slain, including a 15-year-old girl, were fatally shot or strangled and dumped in alleys and garbage bins. Most had traces of coke in their systems.
A task force was assigned to revisit the homicides after the last body was found. Ballistics evidence connected eight victims and DNA, which hadn’t been available at the time of the first killings, showed a link to one man, though his genetic profile wasn’t in any criminal database.
Police were able to close in when the DNA of Franklin’s son, who was arrested for a felony, showed similarities to material left on many of the victims.
Franklin, a onetime trash collector and a garage attendant for the Los Angeles Police Department, had been hiding in plain sight, said Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman.
An officer posing as a busboy retrieved pizza crusts and napkins with Franklin’s DNA while he was celebrating at a birthday party.
It proved a match with material found on the breasts and clothing of many of the women and on the zip tie of a trash bag that held the curled-up body of the final victim, Janecia Peters. She was found Jan. 1, 2007, by someone rifling through a dumpster who noticed her red fingernails through a hole in the bag.
The victims were sisters, daughters and mothers who suffered frailties but had hopes and dreams, Silverman said.
She projected photos of the deceased from happier days, many smiling from headshots that captured their youth and hairstyles of the times. The images were in stark contrast to gory crime scene and autopsy photos also displayed of half-naked bodies sprawled among garbage — images that made family members wince, weep and recoil.
Samara Herard, the sister of the youngest victim, Princess Berthomieux, said there were things she didn’t want to see during the trial and held her head down at times, but was elated with the verdict.
“I wanted to remember the sweet little girl who had her whole life in front of her,” Herard said.
Defense lawyer Seymour Amster challenged what he called “inferior science” of DNA and ballistics evidence. During his closing argument, he introduced a new theory: a “mystery man with a mystery gun and mystery DNA” was responsible for all the killings.
Silverman scoffed at that notion, saying it was as rational an explanation as a space ship dropping from the sky and killing the women.
A key witness was the sole known survivor, Enietra Washington, who was shot in the chest about two months after Alexander was killed.
Her attack fit the pattern of other killings and showed how the killer carried out the crimes, Silverman said. The bullet removed from her came from the same gun used to shoot Alexander and six others.
Perhaps more telling was a detail she told detectives about how her attacker took a Polaroid photo of her as she was losing consciousness. More than two decades later, police found the snapshot of the wounded Washington hidden behind a wall in Franklin’s garage.
Franklin, 63, was also found guilty of one count of attempted murder for Washington’s shooting.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty during the second phase of trial scheduled to start May 12.
Porter Alexander Jr. wants to see the convicted murderer face the same fate his daughter did.
The 75-year-old once wondered if he would live to see the day when Franklin was convicted. He attended court religiously for even the most mundane hearings so Franklin could feel his presence.
“He took a limb from me and every time I look she’s missing and can never be replaced,” he said. “I don’t care how many pictures I have on the wall, or all the things I see around me, doesn’t bring her back.”