Crime & Justice

Grim Sleeper trial: Prosecution opens with graphic photos

Lonnie Franklin Jr., who has been charged with 10 counts of murder in what have been dubbed the
Lonnie Franklin Jr., who has been charged with 10 counts of murder in what have been dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" serial killings that spanned two decades, appears at a court hearing at Los Angeles Superior, on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Attorneys are set to give opening statements on Tuesday.
Nick Ut/AP

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In a dimly lit courtroom, L.A. County prosecutors Tuesday opened the trial against a suspected serial killer known as the "Grim Sleeper" with a series of gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos. 

“The evidence in this case will tell a story – the story of a serial killer who stalked the streets of Los Angeles,” Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told the jury.  

Franklin pleaded not-guilty to ten counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder spanning from 1985 to 2007. 

Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty.

Family members of the victims packed the courtroom as the photos were displayed. Many victims had a history of prostitution and crack cocaine use — which made them particularly vulnerable targets, the prosecutor said. 

Franklin sat quietly beside his attorney, Seymour Amster. 

Amster declined to make an opening statement, giving jurors no hints of what the defense will be.

Prosecutors, however, did not hold back. 

Silverman, who's worked on the case through years of delays, led the jury’s gaze to a victim's family member quietly sobbing in the courtroom. She shook her head and moved to a series of photos: Debra Jackson, found under a carpet in 1985, a bullet wound in her chest; Princess Berthomieux, a 15-year-old foster care runaway, found hidden in bushes in 2002 with strangulation marks around her neck;  Janecia Peters, shot in the back and abandoned in a trash dumpster in 2007. 

Diana Ware, the stepmother of Barbara Ware, who was found under a pile of garbage in January 1987, found the images difficult to bear, though she had been warned of the display by the prosecutor. 

"Finally justice is coming around," Ware said.

She sat with Sherry Ware Costa, the victim's aunt, who saw the prosecutor's photo presentation as strategic: "How would you convey it if there wasn't pictures to see?"  

Silverman told the jury that DNA and ballistics evidence presented in court would link Franklin to the women's murders. 

“You must not be biased against the defendant just because he was arrested, charged with a crime or brought to a trail,” Judge Kathleen Kennedy instructed the jury. 

She also asked the jury to carefully determine the facts in DNA evidence presented.

In the past, Amster, the defense attorney, has called into question the way investigators obtained a DNA sample from Franklin from a discarded plate of half-eaten pizza. 

Much of the case, hinges on that piece of trash, obtained when detectives followed Franklin to John's Incredible Pizza in Buena Park. Posing as a bus boy, a detective collected a plate of unfinished food, a fork, cup, napkin and a half eaten pizza slice from Franklin’s table, Silverman said, showing pictures of the evidence to the jury.

Prosecutors also say ballistics evidence links some of the murders to each other and to Franklin. 

The trial proceedings are expected to take weeks. The alleged crimes date so far back many  expert witnesses who worked the case have since retired or died and will be replaced by individuals in similar roles. 

This story has been updated.