In the summer of 1985, authorities said, Lonnie Franklin Jr. began to kill.
For more than 20 years, near his south Los Angeles home, police said Franklin preyed on numerous young, black women — many struggling to make it. It was a tough time in L.A., where areas were known for hard times.
Many turned to drugs and traded sex to pay. Some worked as prostitutes.
Police said Franklin initiated sexual contact with women, then shot or strangled them and dumped their bodies.
He was dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” — a nod to a years-long break in slayings, between 1988 and 2002.
Franklin, now 63, appeared in court Tuesday for his capital murder trial.
“The day of reckoning is here,” Porter Alexander, one victim’s father, told reporters beforehand, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman spoke in court about the years-long killing spree that started in August 1985 with 29-year-old Debra Jackson, who was shot three times in the chest. It stopped when 25-year-old Janecia Peter was found buried beneath a garbage bag, according to the Los Angeles Times.
One victim was a man. One was a 15-year-old girl. One woman got away.
“All of them, every single one of them, was connected to the same serial killer,” Silverman said during opening statements Tuesday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, according to the Los Angeles Times.
From 1985 to 2007, authorities said, Franklin murdered 10 women.
In the 2000s, police investigators began digging into the city’s cold cases, using DNA evidence from hair and skin to find answers. Then they turned their attention to a serial killer many had been calling the Grim Sleeper.
Over the years, authorities started collecting DNA samples from state prisoners and filing them in a law enforcement DNA database. Franklin’s DNA, however, did not match samples in the system.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2014 that police urged the state to look for DNA matches that could be related to the killer, and then-California Attorney General Jerry Brown agreed to familial searches.
From the Times:
State computers produced a list of 200 genetic profiles of people in the database who might be related to the serial killer. One of those profiles shared a common genetic marker with the DNA found at each of the 15 crime scenes.
The resulting pattern indicated a parent-child relationship. Knowing that the Grim Sleeper had to be a man, they tested the DNA of the 200 offenders whose profiles resembled the crime-scene DNA to determine whether any appeared to share the Y chromosome, which boys inherit from their fathers.
Los Angeles police investigators got one DNA match: Franklin’s son, Christopher Franklin, who had been arrested on firearm and drug-related charges.
But police still needed to confirm that Lonnie Franklin Jr. was the suspect.
An undercover officer followed him to a local pizza parlor, where he was attending a birthday party, and posed as a busboy to collect dishes Franklin had eaten from. In the end, police said, it was an uneaten pizza crust, a napkin and a drinking glass that gave him away, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Franklin was arrested in 2010 and later pleaded not guilty to the murders.
Proceedings have been slow to start, frustrating victims’ families; a year ago, some of them cited Marsy’s Law, California legislation that gives crime victims and their families the right to a speedy trial, according to the Los Angeles Times.
DNA evidence will undoubtedly become a major point at Franklin’s trial, though it remains controversial in his case.
Franklin’s attorneys argued last year that their own analysis had determined that DNA evidence from two crime scenes that was connected to their client belonged to serial killer Chester Turner, according to the Los Angeles Times. A judge ruled that Franklin’s expert was not able to take the stand.
His attorney, Seymour Amster, told the Associated Press that “it’s not over until it’s over.”
“There’s more to it than people want to believe,” he said. “It’s up to the prosecution to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Franklin’s only surviving victim, Enietra Washington, said last year that she was ready.
“I thought I forgave you, but I was wrong,” she told him at a hearing Feb. 5, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You stole so many people’s lives.”
[This post has been updated.]