'Grim Sleeper' trial begins in Los Angeles

The man who is alleged to have killed 10 people pleaded not guilty

The man accused of being a serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper has gone on trial today in Los Angeles, more than 30 years since his first alleged victims were killed. Lonnie Franklin, 63, pleaded not guilty to 10 murders of women aged 15 to 35, between 1985 and 2007. The victims were all shot or strangled, and their bodies dumped in alleyways close to Franklin’s home in South L.A.

The first of the killings occurred in the midst of the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. A 2014 documentary by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, speculated that the authorities had been insufficiently concerned with the lives of Franklin’s alleged victims, all of whom were black, many of whom were addicts, and some of whom worked as prostitutes.

In fact, at least three serial killers were active in South Los Angeles at the time. Chester Turner was convicted of killing 14 women and sentenced to death in 2007. Michael Hughes has been convicted of seven murders and was sentenced to death in 2012. The Grim Sleeper was especially elusive, earning the nickname because his murders appeared to stop between 1988 and 2002.

More than two dozen detectives investigated the original spate of Grim Sleeper killings in the 1980s, but it was only after DNA advances in the 2000s provided new leads that police began to close in on a suspect. When Franklin’s son Christopher was arrested on firearm and drugs charges, his DNA proved a match for that found on several of the victims.

Lonnie Franklin, a former rubbish collector, was finally arrested in July 2010, after a police officer posed as a waiter at a restaurant where the suspect was attending a birthday party, and gathered DNA samples from a napkin, a drinking glass, and an uneaten pizza crust. The long-delayed trial is expected to last as long as four months.

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