LOS ANGELES – Prosecutors said Monday they will seek the death penalty against a man accused of the "Grim Sleeper" serial killings of prostitutes and other women who were shot, strangled or both over several decades in Los Angeles.
The announcement came as capital punishment is coming under increasing fire in California for lengthy delays in executions and for the expenses involved in winning cases, fighting appeals and keeping inmates on death row.
Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman told a court her office will ask a jury for the state's harshest sentence if 58-year-old Lonnie Franklin Jr. is convicted.
Franklin has pleaded not guilty to the murders of 10 women and one count of attempted murder.
Most of the victims linked to the "Grim Sleeper" were found in alleyways within a few miles of Franklin's home south of downtown Los Angeles. Those victims were killed after some kind of sexual contact.
The killings got their name because of an apparent long gap between some of the deaths, which began in the 1980s and extended into the 2000s.
Franklin, a mechanic, was arrested in July 2010. Police have also been investigating him in connection with other murders and now theorize there never was a break in the killings.
Franklin's attorney Louisa Pensanti said she continued to pore over tens of thousands of pages of evidence in the case.
"The steps have been taken to see if the charges are true," she said.
During a hearing Monday, prosecutors were granted the right to take a voice sample from Franklin. Outside court, they said they want to compare it to the voice heard on two 911 calls they believe Franklin made.
"Sometimes (killers) want to stand back and watch the chaos ensue," police Detective Paul Coulter said in explaining why someone might call police after carrying out a killing.
Detectives fear at least three women whose photos and IDs were found in a refrigerator in Franklin's garage suffered the same fate as Janecia Peters, whom Franklin is charged with killing and whose picture was in the same stash. They also are seeking to identify women in 51 other photographs found at his house.
Outside court, Detective Dennis Kilcoyne spoke to a group of relatives of victims and said the death penalty is "almost a non-issue" in California because it takes so long for convicts to be executed.
"In 20 to 25 years, when it comes up, many of us won't be on this planet anymore," he said.
Franklin, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, did not speak during the brief hearing.
Keevin Limbrick, whose sister Alicia Monique Alexander was among those killed, said he chose not look at Franklin in court but would watch his execution if it ever happens.
"I just want to see that day," Limbrick said. "Then I'll look."
Last month, a state Senate bill that seeks to abolish California's death penalty advanced after its first legislative hearing in the Assembly. Now awaiting action in a committee, the bill would put the question before voters in 2012 if it is passed.
A recent study by a federal appellate judge and a university law professor found California taxpayers spend $184 million annually to try death penalty cases, defend the state through appeals and incarcerate condemned inmates. Most of the 714 condemned inmates on the nation's most populous death row are more likely to die of old age than lethal injection, the study found.
The researchers calculated that capital punishment has cost California $4 billion since it was reinstated 34 years ago, yet just 13 inmates have been executed — none in the past five years.
Watkins can be reached at http://twitter.com/thomaswatkins
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