LOS ANGELES – More than 30 years since the bodies of young women started turning up in alleyways and garbage bins in south Los Angeles, attorneys are set to give opening statements in the long-awaited “Grim Sleeper” trial on Tuesday.
Lonnie Franklin Jr. has pleaded not guilty to killing nine women and a 15-year-old girl between 1985 and 2007 in one of the city’s most notorious serial killer cases. The “Grim Sleeper” nickname was coined because of an apparent 14-year gap in the murders between 1988 and 2002.
Franklin, 63, has been awaiting trial behind bars for nearly six years since his arrest in July 2010. The trial is expected to last up to four months.
Other than the 15-year-old girl, all the victims were women between the ages of 18 and 35. They were strangled or shot and dumped in alleys near Franklin’s south Los Angeles home, usually after some kind of sexual contact.
The initial killings occurred during a time of chaos and extreme violence in parts of Los Angeles. Many young women, including most of the victims, were falling prey to crack cocaine and other drug addictions. Several had resorted to trading sex for drugs or money.
Family members of the Grim Sleeper victims and a survivor of the attacks have been frustrated by repeated delays in the case and are eager for the opening statements.
Porter Alexander, the father of one of the victims, was 48 when his 18-year-old daughter was killed. He’s now 75.
“The day of reckoning is here,” Alexander said. “You can’t help but be excited that you lived to see an end to this madness. It’s been a long road and I’m glad I’ll physically be able to be there.”
That’s not true for all the victim family members.
“We’ve already lost two mothers,” said retired Los Angeles Police Detective Dennis Kilcoyne, who led the team of investigators that worked solely on reviving the Grim Sleeper probe in 2007.
Kilcoyne said he planned on attending the opening statements and expected to be called to testify against Franklin.
Franklin’s defense attorney, Seymour Amster, declined to discuss the case at length at such a pivotal juncture, but did say “it’s not over until it’s over.”
“There’s more to it than people want to believe,” Amster said. “It’s up to the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Los Angeles County deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, Beth Silverman, declined to comment.
As many as 30 detectives investigated the Grim Sleeper killings in the 1980s but exhausted leads within a few years.
A special squad of detectives was assembled after the most recent known Grim Sleeper killing, the June 2007 shooting of Janecia Peters, 25, whose body was found in a trash bin.
Police arrested Franklin in July 2010 after his DNA was connected to more than a dozen crime scenes. An officer posing as a busboy at a pizza parlor got DNA samples from dishes and utensils Franklin had been eating with at a birthday party.
The Grim Sleeper was among at least three serial killers who stalked Los Angeles-area women during a crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.
The attacks were dubbed the “Southside Slayer” killings before authorities concluded more than one attacker was involved.
Chester Turner has been convicted of killing 14 women, including one who was pregnant, and was sentenced to death in 2007. Michael Hughes was sentenced to death in 2012 for strangling a 15-year-old girl and two women. He previously got life for four killings.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amanda-lee-myers.