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Los Angeles Jury Reaches Verdict In Grim Sleeper Serial Murder Trial

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A jury in Los Angeles today found 63-year-old Lonnie Franklin Jr. guilty in the murders of nine women and a teenage girl. The killing spree started in 1985 and lasted until 2007. It became known as the Grim Sleeper case.

Franklin targeted young, black women on the streets of South LA, many of them prostitutes or drug addicts. He would sexually assault and kill them then dump their bodies in back alleys. Reporter Frank Stoltze of member station KPCC joins us from the downtown courthouse in Los Angeles. And, Frank, what was the reaction of the verdict today?

FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: There was overwhelming relief from family members of victims who've really been waiting for nearly three decades for some sort of justice in this case. Some openly wept in the courtroom as the verdicts were read. Later, some of them gathered to pray, thanking God for justice and praying for the strength to move on.

And later one said that she had prayed all along for Lonnie Franklin Jr. that he would acknowledge what he did and ask for forgiveness. Franklin has said nothing publicly during this trial, and he did not testify during it. In fact, he showed little emotion for the entire time. As the verdict was read today, he stared straight ahead.

And then I'll give you a little reaction from the LAPD detectives, you know, who worked for years on this case, you know, stumped trying to find the man behind these murders - also great relief from them. Franklin escaped them for nearly a quarter century, so a real sense of relief from the LAPD detectives.

SIEGEL: How was that? How do they explain that it took them 30 years to find this man?

STOLTZE: Well, Franklin was pretty good at secretly dumping bodies in back alleys late at night in South Los Angeles where there are not a lot of witnesses. And he left behind very little evidence except, of course, for DNA. Remember this is before DNA in the 1980s. And I should say that, you know, Franklin was living a relatively normal life. He was a mechanic at home. People would bring cars to him. He even worked as a mechanic for the police department for a time and later as a sanitation worker for the city of Los Angeles.

So just to, you know - at first glance he would not be a suspect. His friends have said that he loved to go out and pick up women. Sometimes they'd go along with him, but they had no idea what he did on his own time. And one last thing - this was the late 1980s. Most of these killings - and it was a very violent time in South LA. The crack epidemic, the gang wars were reaching full steam, and the murder rate was five times what it is now. So police were very busy back then. They've been criticized for not paying enough attention to these murders. Some have said because these involve poor, black women. The police have denied that.

SIEGEL: What was the evidence against him, Frank?

STOLTZE: It was really mostly the DNA. In an extraordinary use of DNA technology, the police department ran what's called a familial DNA search which connects not necessarily to the person who would exactly match the DNA but relatives. So they landed on Franklin's son, and then that led him back to Franklin himself. And they were able to get a DNA sample from him. And that connected him directly to seven of the murders. They also found a gun at his house that was used in one of them. And just the pattern, you know, of dumping bodies, covering them up, the way they were killed linked him to all of them.

SIEGEL: Frank, thanks for that report. That's reporter Frank Stoltze of member station KPCC on the conviction today of Lonnie Franklin Jr. in the case known as the Grim Sleeper murders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.