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L.A. County prosecutors plan to seek death penalty in Grim Sleeper case

LAPD is seeking a voice sample from Lonnie David Franklin Jr., accused of killing 10 women in South L.A.. They want to compare the sample with a tape of a 911 call believed to be made by Franklin.

August 02, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein
  • Authorities want to compare a voice sample of Grim Sleeper slaying suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. with a tape of 911 calls made in connection with at least two slayings.
Authorities want to compare a voice sample of Grim Sleeper slaying suspect… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

L.A. County prosecutors Monday said they would seek the death penalty against the man accused of being the Grim Sleeper serial killer and took the unusual step of seeking a voice sample of the suspect.

Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was charged last year in the deaths of 10 women in South L.A. in the 1980s and 1990s, but police have long suspected that he is responsible for more killings.

Prosecutors requested permission to allow police to take a voice sample from Franklin for comparison to an anonymous male who called 911 operators in connection with at least two Grim Sleeper killings. Detectives suspect Franklin might have made the calls himself and believe the 911 calls might help link additional killings to the suspect.

Photos: Grim Sleeper suspect's images of women

"Obviously, we want to compare his voice. We think he is the caller," said Det. Dennis Kilcoyne of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division.

One of the calls was from a man reporting criminal activity in an alley where victim Barbara Ware, 23, was found shot to death Jan. 10, 1987.

Authorities say they want to compare Franklin's voice against at least one other voice recording but declined to discuss that case, saying it involved a killing that Franklin has not been charged with.

Once police have Franklin's voice sample, officials hope to compare it to more 911 calls, though they declined to provide specifics.

Detectives believe Franklin made 911 calls on the days of several slayings, but it remains unclear exactly how many of the 911 tapes remain. Typically, 911 recordings are kept for seven years and are destroyed unless detectives on a case make copies. At one point in the 1980s, recordings were kept only for six months before they were recorded over.

Franklin, 57, was arrested in July 2010 at his South L.A. home and charged with murder in the slayings of Ware as well as Debra Jackson, 29; Henrietta Wright, 35; Bernita Sparks, age unknown; Mary Lowe, 26; Lachrica Jefferson, 22; Alicia Alexander, 18; Princess Berthomieux, 15; Valerie McCorvey, 35; and Janecia Peters, 25.

Franklin, who has pleaded not guilty, is also charged with one count of attempted murder stemming from the 1988 shooting of a woman who police have said is the only Grim Sleeper victim who is known to have survived. On Monday, his attorney, Louisa Pensanti, asked L.A. County Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg to approve appointment of a second defense attorney with expertise in death penalty cases. That attorney is Seymour Amster.

Los Angeles police said in April that Franklin may have killed eight additional women, including three whose photos and identification cards were found in a refrigerator in Franklin's garage.

If there's a match, authorities say, it would add to a trove of evidence linking Franklin to the serial slayings that terrorized South L.A.. The killer was dubbed the Grim Sleeper by L.A. Weekly because of what appeared to be a period of inactivity separating the killings. But police were skeptical of the idea that the slayings had actually stopped during a supposed 13-year gap and said some of the new killings they are investigating occurred during the "quiet period."

Of the eight new cases police are now investigating, two involve women who disappeared during the 13-year period. A third went missing in 1982, before the first of the 10 known killings.

Detectives are furthest along on three cases: Ayellah Marshall, a high school senior who disappeared in 2005; Rolenia Morris, a 25-year-old who also was reported missing in 2005; and an unidentified woman whose photograph was found at Franklin's residence when he was arrested.

Police discovered Marshall's Hawthorne High School identification card, photos of Morris and her Nevada driver's license, and a photo of the unidentified woman in a refrigerator in Franklin's garage, said Kilcoyne, who heads the Franklin investigation.

Photos: Grim Sleeper suspect's images of women

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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